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Will move SC against Karnataka HC’s order on tobacco pictorial warning, say experts

Warnings helped 62% cigarette smokers, 54% bidi smokers quit, found the Global Adult Tobacco Survey

mumbai Updated: Dec 17, 2017 00:59 IST
Sadaguru Pandit
Sadaguru Pandit
Hindustan Times
The SC had, last year, ordered the enforcement of the 85% pictorial warning rule, up from 20% earlier, despite protests by the tobacco industry. (AP picture for representation)

Advocates of the government and cancer care groups have said that they will challenge the recent Karnataka high court verdict, which quashed government’s 2014 federal rules that required 85 percent of a tobacco pack’s surface to be covered in pictorial warnings, in the Supreme Court (SC).

Pictorial warnings on tobacco products have urged 62% cigarette smokers and 54% bidi smokers to quit smoking, found the second round of Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-17.

Citing data from the survey, cancer experts said the Karnataka HC verdict will attract shame from the world for failing to apply the stringent norms.

GATS—a global standard to systematically monitor adult tobacco use and track key tobacco control indicators, had also revealed that 92% of the adults surveyed believed smoking causes serious illness and 96% shared similar a view about smokeless tobacco. A total of 74,037 Indians were surveyed during August 2016 to February 2017 for GATS 2.

The SC had, last year, ordered the enforcement of the 85% pictorial warning rule, up from 20% earlier, despite protests by the tobacco industry.

“A survey conducted by the ministry of health in 2010 had revealed that the previous health warnings were ineffective, which started the debate for the need to change the warnings or increase them in the first place. And the current pictorial warnings were selected to communicate a strong message to a culturally diverse and multilingual society of India,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, cancer surgeon from Tata Memorial Hospital, who was a part of the national committee which selected the pictures for tobacco products.

“The pictorial warnings carry pictures of patients who were under my care. The selection of the warnings took place after a thorough process to ensure that tobacco users don’t only become aware of the ill-effects of smoking, but quit altogether,” he said.

India’s tobacco packaging rules were among the world’s most stringent and aimed at reducing tobacco consumption, which kills more than 9,00,000 people a year. “In the list of 200 countries with strict norms to curb tobacco use, India ranked third, from 136th in the past. However, after the judgement, we will fall by 103 places and will tie with Pakistan at 106th place,” said KV Dhananjay, lawyer for Cancer Patients Aid Association.

“While arguments were being made in Karnataka HC, I sent a written complaint to the PM, Chief Justice of India and Chief Justice of the Karnataka HC about the bench not wanting to hear my argument about the dangerous health impact of tobacco. The bench preferred to remain ignorant of the adverse health impact of tobacco, claiming that it was of no concern to the case,” Dhananjay said.

The tobacco industry, however, has maintained the rules were extreme. It is not clear if tobacco manufacturers, who currently print the mandated bigger health warnings, will stop doing so immediately, or if the government will step in to make a new rule.

First Published: Dec 17, 2017 00:59 IST