New Delhi, In a remarkable step, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, before the Bench comprising of Hon’ble Chief Justice Tirath Singh Thakur & Hon’ble Justice Uday Umesh Lalit), issued notice and Rule in writ petition No. 134 of 2016 (Umesh Narain Sharma Vs UOI). The PIL is filed by Umesh Narain Sharma, a 66-year-old senior advocate of Allahabad High Court, who smoked cigarettes. Nearly, 4 years back, at the peak of his career, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. He underwent removal of his tongue followed by toxic chemotherapy and radiotherapy. He could eat with great difficulty and speech was completely gone for a long time. Over a period of 2-3 years, things improved and he regained strength to return to work. He could barely argue in court but did not lose courage. Three months later he got another cancer in his jaws. On the day of his case coming up for hearing in SC, he is admitted for removal of his jaw tumor in Tata Memorial Hospital. His life after 2nd surgery would not be same again. He carries a high chance of relapse. He knows that probability is against him. He has only one desire, he does not want our new generation to pick up smoking. He wants to protect future generations.
He decided that the current pictorial warnings on the tobacco products were not adequate and therefore, filed a petition in the Hon’ble Supreme Court for plain packaging of tobacco products.
Currently, tobacco products in India have 40% of pictorial warnings on one side (average 20%). As per the international WHO treaty - Framework Convention for Tobacco Control - to which India a signatory since 2004, pictorial warnings should be a minimum of 30% on both sides and preferably more than 50%.
Aishwarya Bhati, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, who argued the case for Umesh Narain Sharma, said, “It is very significant that the highest court of the land has issued a rule and notice on plain packaging. The Hon’ble Supreme court has always taken proactive steps when it comes to tobacco. Tobacco has done nothing for our citizens, especially children, except for causing death or disability. The implementation of plain packing will serve a useful purpose and youngsters will be saved.”
India is ranked at 136 among 198 countries in terms of prominence of pictorial health warnings on tobacco packaging and is ranked much below countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand etc., having higher proportion of pack warnings on the principal display areas of the tobacco packs. It is also alarming to note that countries ranked after 136 have no pack warning on the tobacco products packages, thus making India status/rank amongst the bottom 10 countries in the world. India also ranked last among other SAARC/SEARO nations that have graphic health warnings.
Countries like Thailand, Australia, Uruguay, Brunei, Canada, Nepal, that have relatively lower prevalence of tobacco use than India have all gone for large sized warnings in the past. At least 60 countries, including Brazil and Russia, require graphic warning labels covering 50% of tobacco product packaging and many countries such as Thailand (85% front and back); Australia (75% front and 90% back); Uruguay (80% front and back); Brunei Darussalam (75% front and back); Canada (75% front and back); Sri Lanka (80% front and back) and Nepal (90% front and back) have implemented larger graphic warning.
Advocate Mr. Rahul Joshi on whose petition, the Hon`ble Rajasthan High Court directed implementation the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014, that mandates printing of 85% pack warnings on tobacco packs, stated: The Central Government (MOHFW) in their reply to his petition have committed on affidavit that implementing 85% pack warning on both sides of pack, is step towards implementing plain packaging”
In Writ Petition, Love Care Foundation Vs. Union of India, the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court, after reviewing evidence supporting the impact of a tobacco plain packaging law in Australia and a study of plain packaging in Brazil leading to reducing the sale of tobacco products, concluded that plain packaging and health warnings reduce the ability of attractive packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of tobacco use. The Hon’ble High Court in the order and Judgment dated 21.7.2014, has taken Judicial notice of plain packaging of tobacco and recommended to the Government to do so.
The Hon’ble Allahabad High Court on 19.11.2014, issued notice to UOI in the Contempt Petition No. 2477/2014, for willful disobedience of the order dated 21.07.2014. However UOI has taken no steps to implement plain packaging.
WHAT IS PLAIN PACKAGING?
A generic, standardized or homogeneous packaging, refers to packaging that requires the removal of all branding (colour, imagery, corporate logo and trademarks). Permitting manufacturers to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font and place on the pack, in addition to the health warnings and any other legally mandated information such as toxic constituents and tax-paid stamp.