SC upbraids Centre for 'conniving with tobacco industry'

Directs it to effectively implement rules that severely restrict advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Monday 22 July 2013

Taking serious note of tobacco-related problems, the Supreme Court on Monday castigated the government for “conniving with the tobacco industry to circumvent guidelines for advertisement on tobacco products”. While setting aside a Bombay High court order, the apex court directed the Central government to effectively implement the Point of Sales Rules, which essentially limit all forms of advertisement (direct or indirect), promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products. 

The Bombay High Court, in an interim order passed in 2006, had stayed the implementation of the advertisement clause of the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (Amendment) Rules of 2005. The rules were notified in 2005, but could not be implemented because of the stay.

Aggrieved by the blatant violations across the country by the tobacco industry under the protection of the Bombay High Court stay order, non-profit organisation Health for Millions Trust filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, seeking vacation of the stay order. The apex court stayed the high court order on January 3 this year.

Tobacco Point of Sales Rules
  •    Restrict content and size and manner of point of sale advertisements
  • Disallow surrogate advertising of tobacco products; ‘indirect advertising’ has been defined as:the use of a name or brand of tobacco products for marketing, promoting or advertising other goods, services and events
  • Prescribe use of particular colours and layout and/or presentation those associated with particular tobacco products
  • Spell out use of tobacco products and smoking situations when advertising other goods and services.
In the final order pronounced on Monday, Justice G S Singhvi, slammed the verdict of the Bombay High court, saying, "every day, every moment people are dying of cancer and it is the Centre which connived with the tobacco lobby by non-appearance of an advocate during the hearing at Bombay High court in 2006.”

Earlier, on July 2, the Supreme Court asked the Central government to submit the compliance report which it did not, much to the court's annoyance.

After the Supreme Court vacated the stay order, the Union government's special secretary for health did write to all chief secretaries of states and Union Territories (UTs) to implement the rules. An endorsed copy of the letter was marked to the director generals of police in all the states and UTs for action at their level under Section 5 (3) of COTPA Tobacco Control Act which prohibits promotion of brand names and trademark of any tobacco product. This Act provides stringent regulations on tobacco promotion under its Section 5 prohibited all forms of direct or indirect advertisement of tobacco products. But there was hardly any effect on ground.

Commenting on the latest apex court verdict, Bhavna Mukhopadhyay of Voluntary Health Association of India said:"Despite the regulations, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is very rampant and youth-centric. There is an urgent need to strengthen the existing provisions of COTPA and a multi-sectoral and inter-governmental synergy to effectively implement a complete ban."

Today's verdict reinstates rules that limit the size of advertisements that can be displayed at shops that sell tobacco products. The hoarding needs to prominently display, in a local language, that “tobacco causes cancer” or “tobacco kills” as per the amendment Rules for Section 5 notified on May 31 (see box).

WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2013

The Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill, 2012

Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India, 2009-2010

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