Supreme Court
Arunachal Pradesh: SC reinstates Congress government, quashing governor's orders. In picture: The Supreme Court of India.Reuters

Indian tobacco companies have approached the Supreme Court to challenge the implementation of the Central government's directive on large-size health warnings on tobacco and cigarette packs. The companies had earlier shut their factories to protest against the order, and have not moved from their stance since.

A representative group of beedi (traditional leaf smoke) makers based in South India approached the Supreme Court on April 8, challenging the new rules, Reuters reported. The plea, filed by the Karnataka Beedi Industry Association, seeks a stay in enforcing the new rules, saying that the rules would cause a grave and irreparable harm to the tobacco industry.

A hearing has been scheduled for April 22 in the Supreme Court.

Although the appeal against the packaging regulations doesn't involve major cigarette manufacturers, the ruling can also apply to them, according to Reuters.

The Union health ministry directive on increasing the size of health warnings on tobacco and cigarette packs to 85 percent from 40 percent came into force on April 1.

A majority of cigarette and tobacco manufacturers, including ITC Ltd, Godfrey Philips and VST Industries, have shut their factories against what they called ambiguity over the government order. ITC, India's largest cigarette manufacturing company, said it would not print large size health warnings.

ITC said the Tobacco Institute of India (TII) had approached the Karnataka High Court, challenging the government order. The TII said the shutdown of factories would result in a loss of Rs. 350 crore every day to the industry.

The tobacco industry had got unusual support from a health ministry-appointed parliamentary panel that said the implementation of large size health warnings would be an extreme measure.

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, has backed the Indian government and called the current debate in the country as worrisome. As per WHO Global Audit Tobacco Survey, about two in three adults (64.5 percent) in India noticed advertisement or tobacco promotion products. The survey said three in five current tobacco users in India (61.1 percent) noticed the health warnings on tobacco packaging and one in three tobacco users (31.5 percent) thought of quitting tobacco because of warning label.