Court directs New Delhi to implement bigger smoking warnings

An Indian court has directed the federal government to immediately implement a rule for bigger health warnings on tobacco packaging, months after the measure was put on hold pending a report from a parliamentary panel.

With the aim of reducing tobacco consumption, India last year said 85 percent of a cigarette packet’s surface should be covered in warnings, up from about 20 percent now. The directive also extended to other tobacco products.The government in March deferred the implementation of the rule as a parliamentary panel said it was still reviewing how the industry would be impacted. A court order, issued by the High Court of Rajasthan state last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, directed the federal government to implement the new rules. The government will have four weeks to reply.Health activists argue the introduction of large-scale graphic health warnings on cigarette packets will reduce smoking in India, where up to 900,000 die every year from tobacco-related diseases.

India ranks 136th out of 198 countries that use health warnings to deter smokers, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Earlier this year, anti-tobacco campaigners criticised the decision by the parliamentary panel to delay implementing the health warnings, particularly after some of its members said there was no link between tobacco and cancer.

Lawmaker Shyama Charan Gupta, who owns a tobacco business and is a member of that panel, told Reuters on Friday he does not support bigger health warnings.

“Increasing or decreasing warnings will not get us anything,” Gupta said. He declined to comment on the state court’s decision.

The health minister has so far supported the new rules publicly, but said they would only be implemented after the parliamentary panel submits its report. Gupta said the panel could take up to 45 days to finalise the report.

The tobacco industry has labelled the new rules as “drastic” and “impractical”.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Andrew MacAskill)

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