Battle for Tobacco Control – India (Part 1)

The Journey from Pro Tobacco to Anti Tobacco

Just a few years back, it would not have been even possible to think of efforts to control tobacco in India, for the country has been the second largest producer of tobacco. Tobacco has been valued by various governments in the country for its revenue and employment generation and potential for the same. But it was in the year 2003 when the Indian Government played a dominant role in the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) discussions and went ahead and ratified in the February of 2004 and commenced the enforcement of tobacco control laws in the month of May same year. Since then both governmental and non-governmental associations both at home and abroad have shown a commitment towards a tobacco control strategy.

Tobacco Control In India

Tobacco Control In India

Some of the factors that have played a significant role in encouraging this changed stand are:

  • Increasing awareness of health hazards associated with tobacco;
  • Environmental damages caused by tobacco;
  • Growing international concern over use of tobacco;
  • Role of international organizations like the WHO in developing effective anti-tobacco campaigns;
  • Strong role being played by civil groups in this direction and
  • Active role of judiciary in this direction.

The article below discusses the legislation and the enforcement efforts taken in this direction in the country.

Legislation and Enforcement of Anti-Tobacco Laws in India

Irrespective of the country where an anti-tobacco campaign is launched, legislation of the land plays an important role. Legislation institutionalizes a program which would otherwise be only be a lame drive in the form of sporadic interventions. It allows for integration of various components and agencies in order to ensure continuity and clearly define the priorities and the area of focus. Legislation is a formal articulation of social norms.

The role of anti-tobacco legislation in the country has been:

  • To lay down a minimum in terms of public health measures;
  • Identify mechanisms for protection of rights and
  • Use social awareness as a vehicle for social change

The Cigarettes Act, 1975 – an Anti Tobacco Legislation

In the 1970’s the government of India gave confusing or rather conflicting signals. While on one hand there were legislations to control smoking, tobacco was considered a major source of revenue and its production was encouraged.

The first step in the direction of controlling tobacco were in the shape of The Cigarettes Act, 1975. The act laid down stipulations with regards to a statutory warning on the packaging and in advertisements. The Act also laid down stipulations with regards to trade and commerce, supply and distribution of cigarettes. The objectives of the Act are reproduced below:

“Smoking of cigarettes is a harmful habit, and in the course of time, can lead to grave health hazards. Researches carried out in various parts of the world have confirmed that there is a relationship between smoking of cigarettes and lung cancer. Chronic bronchitis, certain diseases of the heart and the arteries, cancer of the bladder, prostrate, mouth, pharynx and oesophagus, peptic ulcer, etc. are also reported to be among the ill effects of cigarette smoking.”


The act made it mandatory for all packaging’s and advertisements to carry a statutory warning ‘Cigarette smoking is injurious to health’ with the aim of informing the consumer about the harmful effects of smoking. Section 4 of the act clearly lays down stipulations with regards to the style, size and type of warning. It states

“4. Manner in which specified warning shall be made – (1) The specified warning on a package shall be

(a)   legible and prominent;

(b)    conspicuous as to size and color

(c)    In such style of lettering so as to be boldly and clearly presented in distinct contrast to the other type, lettering or graphic material used on the package or its label and shall be printed, painted or inscribed on the package in a color which contrasts conspicuously with the background of the package or its label.

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(2) Every packet containing  cigarettes shall be so packed as to ensure that the specified warning appearing thereon, or on its label is, before the package is available visible to the consumer”

Section 6 lays down that the language in the warning has to be the same as used on the packaging and if multiple languages have been used the warning also is required to be multiple languages.

Section 7 lays down that the size of the alphabets of the warning are required to be minimum 3 millimeter in height.

Section 10 of the Act allows for confiscation of the packages in case of any provisions of the Act have been contravened and Section 12 lays down that any person involved in producing, supplying, trading of cigarettes without the stipulated warning is required to pay a penalty.

The Cigarettes Act, 1975 was not able to make the required dent for two basic reasons – the warning was mild and the Act did not cover tobacco products other than cigarettes which included beedi, cheroot, gutka and cigar.

The Act was repealed and replaced with a new Act in 2003.

Tobacco Board Act, 1975 – a Pro Tobacco Legislation

In the year 1975 itself the Government of India set up the Tobacco Board for conducting research, development and marketing of tobacco as a crop and the Tobacco Board Act was passed. The Board is responsible for developing varieties of seeds, running seed banks and liasoning with financial institutions on behalf of farmers. It is also responsible for setting up selling platforms, monitoring trade and ensuring a fair price for farmers. The rationale provided for passing the Act was ‘Public Interest’ as the country was the third largest producer of tobacco in the world and sixth amongst countries exporting tobacco. The industry was kept under the control of the Central Government.

At one point of time there were two conflict legislations in operation. While one attempted to discourage smoking the other promoted tobacco as a source of revenue.

Control over Tobacco – Increasing Pressure

During the 80’s and the 90’s the pressure for increased control over tobacco increased. This can be attributed to multiple factors – improved quantification health risks, stronger stance of international organizations and policies and civil activism. The same was true for India too. Tobacco control was a regular cause in civil litigations and the courts increasingly ruled in favor of control measures. The frequency of demand for tobacco control increased and both the Parliament and the legislators thought appropriate to acknowledge the risks that tobacco projected to India. The result of all this was increased pressure over the Central and the State governments to bring about a comprehensive legislation for tobacco control.

Internationally tobacco and its ill effects were receiving greater attention. In the annual resolutions of both 1986 and 1990 urged the member states to:

  • Protect non-smokers from involuntary exposure to tobacco;
  • Protect children and youngsters from getting addicted to tobacco;
  • Put in place legislation and necessary measures to ensure protection of certain groups from exposure to involuntary exposure to smoke;
  • Discourage the use of tobacco;
  • Put in place restrictions on tobacco products;
  • Take concrete action for eliminating advertisement, promotion and sponsorships related to tobacco.

Individual organizations advocated tobacco control even more strongly. Conventions at regional and national level were held in order to bring the stakeholders – namely legislators, health professionals, legal professional, economists, NGO’s, educators and farmers on a common platform. The stakeholders have been divided in two groups – the first denying any linkages between disease and tobacco and warning of economic consequences of tobacco control and second that put up a strong case against tobacco and in favor of control strategy. Especially the younger generation has been vocal in demanding enactment of new laws for tobacco control

The government ceded to the second group and undertook efforts to have a comprehensive legislation for tobacco control. Judicial verdicts given during this period also in the nature of directions to the government to have stronger measures in place.

The measures taken by the central government and the major judicial verdicts are discussed in individual articles.


  • The Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1975
  • Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003


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  • A lawyer by profession, social worker and a fighter against cancer