Tobacco picture warnings: SC declines stay on Karnataka HC order

The Supreme Court refused to grant any interim stay on the Karnataka high court verdict which quashed the government regulation that packets of tobacco products must carry pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of the packaging space


  • According to Cigarette Package Health Warnings International Status Report that was released in 2016, India moved to third position out of 205 countries that had pictorial health warnings on tobacco packages. India’s earlier ranking was 136 in 2014 and 123 in 2012.
  •  The Karnataka high court on 15 December, had struck down the cigarettes and other tobacco products (packaging and labelling) amendment rules, 2014 for being unconstitutional.
  • These rules mandate an “85 per cent pictorial warning on packet” for tobacco products in India.

A vacation bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice S K Kaul declined to pass any interim order. Directing the next hearing of the matter on January 8, the SC asked the High Court to upload the judgment on its official web page by then.

The graphic pictorial warnings which occupy 85 per cent of the package on both sides will assist not only existing consumers of tobacco products to understand the grave health risks involved but also dissuade the younger generation from becoming tobacco addicts.

“Public health community is deeply anguished. Tobacco, killer of 13 lakh innocent Indians and manufacturer of millions of widows and orphans will rejoice today. GATS 2 survey proved that large pictorial warnings are highly effective in making people quit tobacco. The second round of GATS 2016-17 that Union health ministry released put all apprehensions to rest with a section on impact of large tobacco pack warnings showing 62 per cent of cigarette smokers and 54 per cent of bidi smokers thought of quitting because of warning label on the packets,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, an anti-tobacco activist, Professor, Head and Neck Surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital.

He added, “Thanks to these images, there has been a change in perception, which is reason why 92 per cent of adults surveyed believed smoking caused serious illness, and 96 per cent said use of smokeless tobacco causes serious illness.”

Dr Ravi Mehrotra, Director, National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research said, “Reducing the size of pack warnings would be a step back in tobacco control, especially when things started looking up.”