The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the Karnataka High Court order quashing the 2014 government regulation that packets of tobacco products must carry pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of the packaging space, saying that "health of a citizen has primacy".
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was "unimpressed" with the submissions of the Tobacco Institute of India (TII) that the interim stay would harm the fundamental right to do business of tobacco manufacturers.
"Considering the ...submission advanced at the Bar and keeping in view the objects and reasons of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 and the measures taken by the state, we think it appropriate to direct stay of operation of the judgement and order passed by the High Court of Karnataka," the bench said.
Rejecting the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for tobacco manufacturers, that it would affect their business, it said, "We have remained unimpressed by the said proponent as we are inclined to think that health of a citizen has primacy and he or she should be aware of that which can affect or deteriorate the condition of health.
"We may hasten to add that deterioration may be a milder word and, therefore, in all possibility the expression 'destruction of health' is apposite."
The bench then posted the appeals filed by NGO 'Health for Millions Trust' and Umesh Narain for final hearing on March 12 and asked the parties to complete pleading in the meantime.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said that the high court judgement needed to be stayed and 85 per cent pictorial warning on packaging space of tobacco products be allowed to remain as a large section of the population is not educated.
Life sans health is not worth living and chewing of tobacco or smoking of cigarettes or bidis, causes irretrievable hazard to health.
It is the obligation of the state to make the people aware of the injurious nature of these indulgences, Venugopal said.
Initially one may start with smoking or chewing tobacco as an "adventure, but gradually it becomes a habit and, thereafter, it gets converted to addiction. That addiction becomes the killing factor or causation of pain, suffering, agony, anguish and ultimately death," he said.
"So far as tobacco is concerned, this is the most dangerous thing as it causes cancers and heart diseases," Venugopal said.
If the high court order of pictorial warning covering 40 per cent of packaging space of tobacco products is allowed to operate than India will be pushed to 147th rank after Zimbabwe which mandated more prominent display of such pictorial warnings, the Attorney General said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for TII, said that even a parliamentary panel had suggested that there should pictorial warning covering 40 per cent of the packaging space of tobacco products and urged the court that it let the high court order remain in force till March 31 and list the matter for final hearing.
Sibal also suggested that the court may consider it capping at 50 per cent.
The high court, on December 15, last year had struck down the 2014 amendment rules that mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 85 per cent of packaging space of tobacco products, holding that they were unconstitutional as they violated fundamental rights like the right to equality and the right to trade.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 (COTPA) had come into effect from April 1, 2016.
It came into being based on the recommendations of experts committee, the NGO had said.
The bench was hearing appeals including those filed by NGO 'Health for Millions Trust' and Umesh Narain, a senior advocate, against the high court verdict.
The high court had, however, made it clear that the 40 per cent pictorial health warning rule, which existed prior to the amendment rules, would remain in force.