Harish V Nair
In eight months’ time, you will find a packet of cigarette disclosing percentage of ingredients like nicotine and tar in detail. The rule, in the interest of public health, will be enforced with help from the United States.
The Health Ministry has told the Delhi High Court that it has roped in technical expertise from the US for the success of its National Tobacco Control Programme envisaged to bringing into force penal provisions of Tobacco Act 2003.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice A.P. Shah was hearing a PIL seeking directions to manufacturers of tobacco products to specify quantity of ingredients on the packet made mandatory by the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003. In case of any violation, the Act also envisages punishment up to two years or a fine of Rs 1,000 for a first-time offender, for a subsequent offence, it stipulates imprisonment up to five years or Rs 5,000 as fine.
But the rule could not be implemented as there was no facility in the country to test the percentage of contents in tobacco products.
“Once the contents are made known, a public health department may study these additives and inform the public what risks these ingredients pose to smokers. Most imported cigarettes have the ingredients on the packets,” said lawyer and petitioner Puneet Gupta.
Senior Health Ministry official Sudhir Kumar told the court: “We are in the process of obtaining technical Assistance from Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, USA, a world class institution having the necessary technical expertise in the matter.”
Kumar said the Centre would then set up an apex Regional/Referral, laboratory facilities and five other regional labs for testing tar and nicotine content in all tobacco products.
Terming establishment of testing laboratories as an “important component” of the National Tobacco Control Programme, the ministry said penal provisions to ensure its success could be in place only after laboratory facilities are in place. The government told the court that US expertise was being made use of to implement the penal provisions under the Tobacco Act “within 8 months or one year”.