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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed all tobacco companies to implement the rule mandating 85% pictorial warnings on packets of tobacco products.

A bench headed by justice P.C. Ghosh also directed all petitions challenging the rule at various courts to be transferred and heard afresh by the Karnataka high court. The apex court set a deadline of eight weeks to dispose of the matter.

The court also said any stay order obtained from a court where the matter was being heard would be ineffective.

“No order passed by any court until now will hold and the matter would be heard afresh," said justice Ghosh.

The court also directed the chief justice of Karnataka high court to decide if the batch of matters would be heard before a single bench or a division bench.

The court said in the public interest, tobacco companies should act responsibly, adding any awareness created on the issue would help curb the ill effects of tobacco.

Twenty seven cases filed by tobacco companies against the pictorial rule are pending in various high courts including in Karnataka, Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai.

Among various associations, Karnataka Beedi Industry Association had approached the Supreme Court, challenging the regulation, saying that it would bring the industry to a “grinding halt" and “cause grave and irreparable harm and loss".

A notification by the health ministry on 24 September 2015 for implementation of the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labeling) Amendment Rules, 2014 came into force on 1 April.

It prescribed larger pictorial petitions, covering 85% of the size of the packets of tobacco products, including cigarettes and beedis.

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