Granting some relief to manufacturers and sellers of tobacco and tobacco products, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the state government to not take any coercive action to enforce the ban on sale of chewing tobacco. The court of Justice Rajiv Shakdher also agreed to look into the legal issue of whether the definition of “food” under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) would include tobacco and tobacco products.
In an order issued last week, the Delhi government banned the manufacture, storage and sale of chewable tobacco in the capital for one year under the Food Safety and Standards Act.
The ban has now been challenged by Sugandhi Snuff King Pvt Ltd, a Badarpur-based company which manufactures flavoured and unflavoured chewing tobacco.
According to the plea filed by Sugandhi, the government could not have issued the notification banning chewing tobacco as the product was not within the ambit of the definition of “food” under the Food Safety Act, but was a regulated product under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act (COTPA).
The company has also claimed chewing tobacco was distinct from gutkha or paan masala. The plea sought court orders to lift the ban.
During the hearing before the court of Justice Rajiv Shakdher, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing on behalf of the company, argued that COTPA was a special law and tobacco was deliberately kept outside the purview of the FSSA by the legislation.
He argued that the ban was “arbitrary” as only chewing tobacco had been banned and not the sale of smokable tobacco. “Smoking causes about 7,00,000 deaths per year in India,” the plea states, adding that consumption of smokeless tobacco and exposure to second-hand smoke caused an estimated “1,00,000 deaths per year”.
Rajiv Nanda, counsel for the government, told the court that the decision had been taken in public interest and that the definition of “food” included tobacco and tobacco-based products.