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Despite a ban on sale of cigarettes without pictorial warnings in the country, the Supreme Court Friday allowed their sale to outgoing passengers by the duty-free outlets at departure lounges of Indian airports.

Approving the sale, a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Deepak Verma and Justice T.S. Thakur ordered the release of international brand cigarettes worth Rs.75 lakh, seized by custom authorities from outlets at departure lounges of Mumbai international airport, for not carrying the pictorial warning.

The bench gave its order on a lawsuit by the DFS India Private Ltd, which has been given the license to set up duty-free shops at various international airports in the country.

The private firm had come to the apex court challenging a recent Bombay High Court refusal to order custom authorities to release their stocks of cigarettes, which were without the statutory pictorial warning.

The apex court bench gave the firm the relief, acceding to senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi’s argument that the cigarettes being sold at duty-free outlets to outbound passengers at departure lounges of India’s international airports are akin to the export of cigarettes.

Cigarettes, manufactured and meant for export, are exempt from the domestic laws for having statutory pictorial warning of cancer-hit lungs printed on their packets.

“These are exports, and exports are exempt from carrying statutory warnings,” contended Rohatgi.

Rohatgi argued that the packets being sold at its duty-free outlet in the arrival lounge carried the warnings as they would be used in India, but not those being sold at the departure lounge as they would be used abroad.

The cigarette cartons in the departure lounge’s outlet had the warnings, but not individual packs, he said. “These are for use in Spain, Germany and elsewhere, for people flying out of the country.”

While entertaining the DFS’ lawsuit last Month, the bench had refused the firm to grant any interim relief.

“Cigarette smoking is injurious wherever it is done – whether Spain, Germany and elsewhere,” the bench had remarked, prompting Rohatgi to counter it by saying: “If smoking is injurious, so are salt and sugar”.

So far, only one international brand, Phillip Morris, has such warnings on its packs sold at duty-free shops in departure lounges.

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Mica Tardugno
Mica Tardugno
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