Stating that larger pictorial warnings on tobacco products are ''necessary to educate people'', the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the tobacco companies to implement the rule mandating pictorial health warnings to cover 85 per cent of tobacco product packets and refused the manufacturers' plea to stay the implementation of new cigarette packaging rules introduced from 1 April.
The apex court directed tobacco manufacturers to immediately comply with the central government's regulation on increasing the size of health warnings to 85 per cent of the principal display area on packets and follow the rules till the Karnataka High Court, where all the petitions from various high courts are being transferred, pronounced its final order
''Tobacco manufacturers have a duty towards the society … bigger pictorial warnings on tobacco products are necessary to educate people. They should know about its effect on health,'' observed a bench of Justice P C Ghose and Amitava Roy.
The health ministry's notification on increasing the size of the pictorial warnings from the current 20 per cent to 85 per cent came into force on 1 April. The bench today turned down the manufacturers' plea to stay the implementation of the new cigarette packaging rules.
The bench also vacated all the stay orders issued against larger pictorial warnings by any other court in the country and said tobacco manufacturers must abide by the new norms. The bench directed that related petitions in three high courts should be transferred to the Karnataka High Court in two weeks and the matter should be decided in eight weeks.
''We request all the petitioners that till the disposal of matters by the Karnataka High Court, it will be the endeavour of all the parties to implement the rules whatever as amended. This order will not stand in the way of the Karnataka High Court deciding the matter on merit. Any stay granted by any court shall not be implemented until the final order is passed by the Karnataka High Court,'' it said.
The court was hearing a plea filed by the Karnataka Beedi Association challenging the notification. Tobacco manufacturers said they cannot show the trademark on packets or advertise due to large pictorial warnings. They also argued that the stipulation was too harsh and was likely to affect their right to carry on trade and business.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar opposed the grant of any stay, saying the decision has been taken in the larger public interest.