Murli S. Deora v. Union of India & Ors. 

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Case no. Writ Petition(Civil) 316 of 199

Introduction

According to Bhagwati, J., Article 21 “embodies a constitutional value of supreme importance in a democratic society.” Iyer, J., has characterized Article 21 as “the procedural Magna Carta protective of life and liberty.

This Right has been held to be the heart of the Constitution, an indispensable right required for leading a meaningful life, worth living, and is regarded as the cornerstone of our laws. The Right to a healthy life is a fundamental right as envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It provides everyone with the Right to breathe in the air free from the harmful, second-hand smoke mixed air. The ill-effect of the second-hand smoke to a non-smoker is no longer a postulation; instead, it is a proven component, in increasing the heart attack rate in people who inhale it—the effects of temporary exposure to smoke including headache, breathing problems and even nausea. Unlike self-indulgent behaviour like eating food or drinking alcohol, second-hand smoke results are not exclusively limited to the smoker himself. The adverse effects of smoking in public, carry over to other individuals’ lives with a substantial and occasionally, permanent impact. The public places’ aesthetic beauty recedes because of the smokers throwing away cigarette butts, littering on the whole area.

Facts

The Petitioner, Murli S. Deora, a famous politician and a well-known social activist approached the Supreme Court by filing a Public Interest Litigation based on the Right to life, and liberty as envisaged under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. India is the second-largest producer and the third-largest consumer of tobacco; there has been an increase in the diseases related to the smokers’ smoking attributes on the smokers and the non-smokers. Tobacco-related diseases caused an estimated eight hundred thousand deaths in India per year, with the treatment of tobacco-caused diseases resulting in a loss of Rs. 13,500 Crores annually. The World Health Organization estimated that up to seven million deaths, worldwide, per year, were attributable to tobacco-related disease, of which sixty million deaths occurred in developing countries during the previous fifty years.

Back in the day, two Acts were in force, namely, the Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1975 and the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Bill, 2001. Both the Acts were predominantly focused on the concern towards ill tobacco smoking on the public’s health. Still, it did not explicitly establish any stand on the ban on tobacco smoking in public places. Therefore, enforcing the Right given by Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, a writ petition was filed regarding the same concern.

Issues

Whether smoking in public places is an indirect deprivation of life of non-smokers without any process of law and the breach of article 21 of the Indian Constitution?

Why should the other person other than the active intend smoke suffer from the injuries and the disease of smoking?

Should smoking in public places be banned?

Summary of Court decision and Judgement

While trying to ensure the health of non-smokers, the Supreme Court, adjudged that smoking in public spots, directly and indirectly, deprives the passive smoker of his rights and privileges conferred upon him by the Indian Constitution denies the Right and the privileges of the passive smoker/non-smoker given to them by the Constitution under Article 21. It will amount to an entire act violation of their Right to life in a clean and safe environment, thus protecting their health from the hazardous disease, which is not even an outcome of their acts. It said that smoking in public was injurious to the health of passive smokers who were helpless victims of air pollution caused by smoking. Therefore, embarking upon the gravity of the situation and the circumstances, and considering the adverse impact of smoking and diseases related to it on the passive smokers, the Supreme Court prohibited smoking in public places. It also issued a guideline directing the Union of India, State Governments and Union Territories to implement this ban in auditoriums; hospital buildings; health institutions; educational institutions; libraries; court buildings; public offices and public conveyances including railways.

Analysis

The Petitioner drew attention to the fact that tobacco contains harmful contents including nicotine, tar, potential carcinogens, carbon monoxide, irritants, asphyxiates, and smoke particles, which are the sources of various lethal diseases including cancer. Further alleged that tobacco use’s repercussion includes the death of three million people, yearly, one million of which belong to developing countries like India. The World Health Organization estimated that tobacco-related deaths could rise to a whopping seven million per year. Besides cancer, it is also accountable for various other lethal diseases to humankind. The Petitioner further submitted that Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that no one shall be deprived of his life without due process of law, but smoking in public places affected a non-smoker with diseases including lung cancer or heart-related issues. It was additionally submitted that The Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1975 inter alia provides, “Smoking of cigarettes is a harmful habit and in the course of time can lead to grave hazard”.

Correspondingly, the cigarettes and other products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Bill, 2001 provides that cigarette smoking leads to various health hazards, but neither of them explicitly prohibit smoking in public places. Hence, it was prayed, considering the adverse effect of smoking in public places, the court in the interest of the public should prohibit smoking in public places until the statutory provisions are made and implemented. The Attorney General and the counsels for respondents submitted that considering the harmful effect of tobacco, prohibition on smoking in public places is imperative. Learned counsel Attorney General further submitted that appropriate order banning smoking in public places be passed, which was supported by counsels for other respondents.

In earlier days, the sole legislation regulating tobacco products in India was The Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act, 1975, which mandated the display of health warnings on cigarette packages, cartons and advertisements and provided law enforcement agencies with the power to regulate the production and commercialization of tobacco products. However, this legislation was strongly criticized for dual reasons; firstly, it did not encompass any provisions to regulate the production or use of non-cigarette tobacco products including cheroots, cigarette, gutka and beedis. Secondly, the law was predicated on beedis that as the tobacco industry accounted for a substantial share of public revenue. Law enforcement agencies should interfere in the industry’s working only if it seemed necessary. In 1990, the Central Government prohibited smoking in some public places where many people could be present. In 1992, the manufacture and use of tobacco products in tubes of toothpaste and tooth powder were banned vide an amendment to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. 

The Apex Court in Murli s. Deora V. Union of India, prohibited smoking in public places including auditoriums, hospital buildings, educational institutions, health institutions, libraries, court buildings, public offices and public modes of transport. The cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, which incorporates the provisions of the Act of 1975, included within its ambit, provisions governing the use of non-cigarette tobacco products, ban on public smoking, advertisement of tobacco products, sale of tobacco products in certain contexts, etc. 

Conclusion

Banning cigarette smoking in public places will reduce the rate of heart attack, consequently leading to a decrease in the overall habit of smoking. Tobacco consumption is a major preventable cause of premature death and disease worldwide, with nearly 1,000,000 people dying in India alone due to tobacco use as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey. Smoking is a personal choice, but it should not be forced upon people who aren’t ready to be a part of it. By banning smoking in public places will make sure that no one’s personal space is intruded.

 Thus, it is clear that the Supreme Court plays a significant role in banning smoking in public places, resulting in a decrease of death annually. Apart from prohibiting smoking in public places, it also upheld that the Right to a healthy environment is a fundamental right guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution of India. After the Judiciary’s steps, the legislature came forward and banned smoking in public places. Even though the Government measures have yielded significant results, a lot more remains to be done for fanning the flicks of progress that these measures have generated. By virtue of the new scheme, smoking is now prohibited in auditoriums, health institutes, educational institutes, cinemas, modes of public transport planes, buses, taxis, trains) airports, bus stops/stations, railway stations, hotels and restaurants, all kinds of offices, libraries, shopping malls, canteens/refreshment rooms, post offices, amusement parks, courts, discotheques, pubs, bars and coffee houses.

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