The Supreme Court has severely indicted the government for not implementing the pictorial signs and health warnings on cigarette packets, saying, "Is the government doing this to control (the) rapidly increasing population?"
After repeated delays, additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam assured the court that the government would introduce displaying of statutory pictorial and health warnings on tobacco products by 31 May.
After the government failed in implementing the tobacco health warnings, NGO Health for Millions filed a case in the Supreme Court where its counsel Indira Jaisingh said that government had scaled down the pictorial warnings from the original warnings on tobacco products.
Jaisingh said that the government had originally wanted to display a skull-and-crossbone image on all tobacco products as well as the warning that tobacco smoke can even harm a baby while still in mother's womb.
But the government has now diluted the image by using X-ray images of lungs on the label of tobacco products and instead of displaying the skull-and-crossbone image, now the image of a scorpion is expected to be shown.
Jaisingh argued that the skull-and-crossbone image is used globally as a symbol of health warning and the image of a scorpion would have no health recall image for Indian masses
Pictorial warnings of the skull-and-crossbone image on tobacco products are intended to enlighten the smoker of the harmful effects of tobacco and with India having so many languages, this image breaks all linguistic barriers.
She also accused the government of falling prey to the tobacco lobby in delaying the implementation and diluting the warnings as many ministers and MP's own tobacco plantations, who are behind in repeatedly delaying the implementation.
Ironically, the Indian government was one of the main supporters of introducing health warnings on cigarette packs for the global community at the third Conference of Parties (COP-3) held in South Africa in November 2008.
But now, it is the same government that is dithering on implementing this ruling at home on various pretexts due to the pressure from tobacco growers' lobby.
In September, the Supreme Court refused to stay the implementation of the 2008 rules banning smoking in public places across India. The Supreme Court has further gone ahead and stated that no other court in the country could pass any order against these rules. (See: Supreme Court refuses stay on smoking ban; India to go smoke-free from 2 October)
After hearing Jaisingh's arguments, the bench asked Gopal Subramaniam as to whether the government wants to control the population by diluting the health warning pictorial image.
After hearing both sides, the court has kept 30 April as the final date to dispose of the complaint.
Smoke from a single cigarette contains more than 4,000 chemicals whose content and concentration can vary widely from one brand or type of cigarette to the other.
Some of the chemicals from the smoke of a cigarette:
- Acetone cyanide
- Aluminum DDT / dieldrin
- Ammonia ethenol
- Arsenic formaldehyde
- Benzene hydrogen cyanide
- Butane lead
- Cadmium methanol
- Carbon monoxide nicotine
- Carbon dioxide tar
- Chloroform vinyl chloride