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Delhi HC slams young lawyer for PIL against anti-tobacco health spots in films, TV

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday expressed dissatisfaction with a lawyer who filed a PIL seeking prohibition on the display of anti-tobacco advertisements containing graphic or gross images during films in cinemas and on TV, or OTT platforms.

The petitioner, who is a young lawyer, had challenged a single judge’s order, which had dismissed the PIL, terming it a “gross misuse of process of law,” and that the graphic descriptions used in government-issued advertisements are intended to be “eye-openers for the people” to deter them from tobacco and tobacco product use.

On Tuesday, a Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Mini Pushkarna conveyed displeasure, stating that the lawyer needs a “course correction” and that the content in the advertisements reflects “actual reality.”

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The Bench said that the lawyer’s approach was an “absolute misuse of PIL to the core” and advised a firm hand, stressing the need for course correction.

It agreed with Justice Subramonium Prasad’s view, describing the PIL as “sponsored litigation” and urged the lawyer to express regret.

The court asked the lawyer petitioner to submit an affidavit of regret within two days, after which it would expunge the observations made by the single judge.

The court posted the matter for further hearing on December 7.

“The purpose of displaying distasteful, graphic anti-tobacco imagery in health warnings shown during movies and TV programs is solely to make people aware of the ailments and ill-effects of consuming tobacco and tobacco products and to illustrate what tobacco can do to their health,” the single judge had stated.

Regarding the petitioner, Advocate Divyam Aggarwal, the court had described the plea as a misuse of the legal process but refrained from making any comments that might impact his future.

“However, this court warns the petitioner not to file such kind of frivolous petitions in the future,” the court had cautioned.

Aggarwal’s grievance centred on the presence of “distasteful, gross, and graphic anti-tobacco imagery” in health warnings played during movies and TV programmes.

The court stressed on the harmful health effects of smoking and mentioned the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act, 2003, which mandates statutory warnings on cigarette and tobacco product packaging and outlines the manner of specifying warnings.

The court said that the government uses these graphic descriptions in advertisements to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco and tobacco products.

It noted that these government-issued ads, which the petitioner considered to contain gross and graphic imagery, are meant to discourage tobacco use and are in public interest.

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