The purpose of showing distasteful and gross anti-tobacco imagery in the health spots during film screenings in cinema halls and on television and OTT platforms is to make people aware of the ailments and ill-effects of consuming tobacco products, the Delhi High Court has said.
The court’s observation came while dismissing a petition seeking directions to the government to prohibit the display of anti-tobacco health spots during film screenings in cinema halls and on television and OTT platforms, which have graphic or gross images.
The court said the petition was backed by the tobacco industry lobby to prevent the government from raising awareness against tobacco use, which is the sole cause for a number of ailments among people, and restrain authorities from ensuring that people do not become tobacco addicts.
The court also raised concerns over the abuse of the process of public interest litigation (PIL), which it said was actually a tool for providing a voice to the voiceless but is now being used for private gains.
“With a view to deter people from smoking tobacco and tobacco products, the Government of India has brought in advertisements to educate people about the ill-effects of tobacco and tobacco products.
“The graphic description given in these government-issued advertisements which, according to the petitioner, are gross and graphic imagery, are in fact meant to be eye-openers for the people not to use tobacco and tobacco products and is, therefore, in public interest,” Justice Subramonium Prasad said in an order that was passed earlier but made available on the court’s website on Tuesday.
The high court said the purpose of displaying distasteful, gross and graphic anti-tobacco imagery in the health spots played during the screening of movies and television programmes is only to make people aware of the ailments and ill-effects of consuming tobacco and tobacco products and show them what tobacco can do to their health.
The court said it is the duty of the State to take steps to ensure that the health of the citizens is protected and this petition is a gross abuse of the process of law.
“Of late, this court is seeing that public interest litigation, which was actually a tool for providing a voice to the voiceless, is being used to achieve private gains and the present writ petition is also one such petition which has been backed by the tobacco industry lobby to prevent the government from creating awareness against tobacco, which, as stated earlier, is the sole cause responsible for a number of ailments among men and women,” Justice Prasad said.
The court also referred to a Supreme Court judgment that recognised the increasing trend of abuse of the forum of PIL and noted that the time has come to ensure that the attractive brand name of public interest litigation should not be allowed to be used for suspicious products of mischief.
It dismissed the petition filed by a lawyer seeking directions to the Centre for prohibiting the display of anti-tobacco health spots during film screenings in cinema halls, on television and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, which contain graphic or gross images.
The plea said it was filed due to the incorporation and prevalence of distasteful, gross, graphic anti-tobacco imagery in the health spots played during the screening of movies and television programmes.
The court said the aim of the petition was to restrain the government from achieving the noble objective of a tobacco-free State and ensure that people do not become tobacco addicts.
“The present writ petition deserves to be dismissed with exemplary costs but looking at the petitioner, who is a young advocate having a bright future ahead, this court restrains itself from making any comments on the petitioner, which might have a bearing on his future. However, this court warns the petitioner not to file such kind of frivolous petitions in future. The writ petition is dismissed,” it said.
The court said looking at the ill-effects of cigarettes and other tobacco products, the Centre brought in the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 to prohibit the advertisement of and provide for the regulation of trade and commerce of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
It said the Act provides that no individual or person or character in films or on television shall display tobacco products or their use.
However, it is provided that the rule will not apply to old Indian films and television programmes, produced prior to the enactment of the 2003 Act or Rules, being screened in a cinema hall or theatre or aired on television provided that they carry a warning regarding the ill-effects of tobacco and tobacco products, it noted.