SC suspends tobacco pictorial warnings



By Chitra Weerarathne


The Supreme Court yesterday suspended, till January 22, 2014, the regulation, published by the Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena making it mandatory for 80 per cent of principal display areas of packets of tobacco products to be covered with pictorial warnings.


The Supreme Court also granted the Ceylon Tobacco Co. Pvt. Limited, special leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against a Court of Appeal order which refused interim relief against the regulation which ordered that 80 per cent of the front and back of the packs of cigarettes to be covered with pictorial warnings.


The special leave to appeal was granted on the issue whether the Court of Appeal erred in the context of the issue raised by the Ceylon Tobacco Co. relating to the vires of the Regulation challenged, and the balance of convenience on not granting interim relief, as asked for in the writ application, filed in the Court of Appeal.


The special leave to appeal application will be heard in the Supreme Court on May 7, 2014.


The issue will be mentioned in the Supreme Court on January 21, 2014.


The Ceylon Tobacco Co. had sought a writ in the Court of Appeal against the decision of the Minister to impose the regulation. That Court however refused interim relief. The petitioner, Ceylon Tobacco, appealed to the Supreme Court against the refusal of the interim relief.


President’s Counsel Faiz Mustapha appeared with Faizer Markar for the Ceylon Tobacco Co. Pvt. Limited.


Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Janak de Silva appeared for the Minister of Health.


The Bench comprised, Justices Saleem Marsoof, Sathya Hettige and Eva Wanasundera.


During the hearing, in the Supreme Court, DSG Janak de Silva said that pictorial warnings were permitted in Section 34 of the Tobacco and Alcohols Act.


The DSG appeared for the Minister of Health, made the first respondent, in the Special Leave to Appeal Application filed in the Supreme Court, by the Ceylon Tobacco Company Pvt. Limited.


"This is not a case where only Sri Lanka is trying to introduce pictorial warnings," the DSG said.


He said that the Minister was willing to bring down the percentage of the pictorial warning from 80 per cent to 75. "The Minister offers flexibility," he said adding that with 80 per cent pictorial warnings, there was still space for the Trade Mark, which was not violated at all.


President’s Counsel Faiz Mustapha appearing for the Ceylon Tobacco Company, the appellant in the Supreme Court, said that the regulation to print 80 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco packets was ultra vires of Section 34 of the National Tobacco and Alcohols Act. The Act provided for texts to be printed in clear letters. It was not possible to print 80 per cent pictorials.


Counsel Mustapha explained that cigars to the value of Rs. 70 million, which had already been packed, would be affected by the Minister’s regulation. If manufacture is hindered, illegal cigars will infiltrate the country, he said.


The main Writ Application will be argued in the Court of Appeal on November 11, 2013.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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