The Supreme Court Wednesday recorded the undertaking of the central government that the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, including the rules related to pictorial warning on cigarette and tobacco products, will be implemented from May 31 and there will be no further extensions.
The court further stated that in view of this promise, no court in the country shall pass any order inconsistent with this order.
The bench, headed by Justice B N Agrawal, passed the order following the assurance given by Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam in the petition moved by a public interest organisation, Health for Millions, which was agitating the issue of tobacco-related deaths.
Most of the tobacco companies appeared in the court and had defended their advertising and packaging policies, stating that they were acting within the law.
However, counsel Indira Jaising for Health for Millions alleged that the government was succumbing to pressure from the tobacco lobby from time to time. The NGO has alleged that besides diluting the impact of the pictorial warnings, the Centre has been dragging its feet on enforcing the rule since 2006.
For instance, the earlier plan to show the sign of skull and cross bones prominently was resisted by the industry. Then, there was a move to have the warning on both sides of the cigarette packets, but now it has been reduced to one side.
The retailers can, therefore, display the side without the warning. Jaising also showed the judges some packages which, if opened, hide the warning.
The size of the warning has also been reduced at the instance of the industry, though ex-minister Ambumani Ramadoss wanted the packages to carry powerful anti-smoking signs.
Wednesday's order is an interim one, and the petition is still pending for further hearing.