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February 17th, 2016:

HC Raps Centre Over Tobacco Case

BENGALURU: The High Court on Tuesday expressed its displeasure with the Union government over its lack of representation in a case pertaining to packaging and labelling on tobacco products.

The petitioners comprising tobacco companies, growers and retailers had challenged an amendment order under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, 2008, which mandates that tobacco products must display pictorial warnings of 85 per cent on both sides of the pack. The order is meant to come into effect from April 1. In an earlier order, the High Court had stayed the amendment order.

Two organisations – Health for Millions and Cancer Patient Association – filed impleading applications on Tuesday and sought to vacate the stay order. They stated that an earlier Supreme Court judgment, which had heard a matter pertaining to the 2008 Act mandating 40 per cent of pictorial warnings on packs and upheld it, had given an order stating that an adverse judgment could not be passed by the High Court.

They contended that the present judgment violated that order and hence had to be vacated.

The petitioners, however, contended that the Supreme Court had given the judgment pertaining to a different notification and was not applicable in the present case. The petitioners also contended that the organisations filing impleading applications were third party and if the High Court allowed them to do so, it would set precedence for third parties.

While adjourning the matter, Justice Ravi Malimath sought to know why the Union government was not represented in the case and whether they favoured the petitioners.

“Maybe, the Union government supports private parties. Is the Union government aware that they were also absent in a similar case at the Rajasthan High Court and the Court made serious observations?” he asked.

Exclusive: Legal fight looms for government over plain tobacco packaging

British American Tobacco has confirmed to ONE News that it will explore “all possible legal avenues” to fight the legislation, which will be debated later this year after a delay due to legal action against Australia’s government by another tobacco company.

However, Prime Minister John Key says he is not worried about the impending legal fight.

The case against Australia, brought by Philip Morris, failed, but there is still a World Trade Organisation case pending.

Both British American Tobacco and Philip Morris say forcing them to adopt plain packaging on their products breaches copyright.

ONE News also understands that the government is waiting for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement to be ratified, because it contains a clause that allows the government to make any changes to public health law it pleases without fear of reprisals like this.

Neither of the companies would comment on the issue, but they claim there is no evidence plain packaging reduces smoking rates, and say the government should be cracking down on home-grown tobacco instead.

The government is working towards the goal of New Zealand being smokefree by 2025.