New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for the centre to enforce rules on tobacco advertising at shops, while heavily criticizing the government for not moving faster to get a stay lifted on a law against the use of the substance. It accused the centre for “conniving” with the tobacco lobby despite people dying of cancer daily.
A bench headed by justice G.S. Singhvi quashed the interim order of the Bombay high court staying the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Rules, 2004, also known as point of sale rules that regulate advertisements at shops.
The bench expressed “serious concern” over how the centre handled the case in the high court, which had in 2005 stayed the implementation of the rules.
It said that the high court had passed the order without considering its consequences. “No effort, however, was made for vacating the order which had a huge ramification on society at large particularly weaker and poor sections who are the largest consumer of tobacco products,” the bench said.
It also questioned the centre’s motive over not taking steps to get the order vacated. “Every day, every moment, people are dying of cancer and it is the centre which connived with the tobacco lobby by non-appearance of an advocate during the hearing at Bombay high court,” it said, adding that the counsel who was supposed to appear for centre had “some other interest”.
The apex court ruling prohibits the display of ads larger than 60cm by 45cm. The law says that advertising displays should contain, in an Indian language, warnings that “tobacco causes cancer” or “tobacco kills”. These should be prominent, covering an area measuring 20cm by 15 cm, according to the rule.
“The fact is that only 100% advertising bans are effective. This point of sale restriction by Supreme court would greatly help in curbing advertising of tobacco products,” said Monika Arora, director of health promotion and tobacco control division at Public Health Foundation of India. “Further, India is a signatory to WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In that light, the government needs to re-look at the mandates given to different ministries. Unless the mandates given to health and commerce ministries are not in line with each other, tobacco control will remain problematic.”
The apex court passed the order on a public interest litigation filed by non-profit Health For Millions, which contended that the rules need to be strictly implemented as India was a signatory to global convention of tobacco control. Under this, India has to impose a comprehensive ban on all advertisements, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products to reduce consumption globally, it said.