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Public Health Win: Supreme court of Nepal dismisses Tobacco Industry challenge

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Following eight years of legal battle, on 28 August 2022, the Nepal Supreme Court has ruled in favour of public health protection mandating industry to print 90% pictorial health warnings (PHW) on all tobacco packs.

Nepal had passed the rules to enlarge its PHWs to 90% in 2015, up from the previous 75%, and became the first country with largest PHWs. However, Perfect Blend Pvt. Ltd. (backed by tobacco giant Surya Nepal, Pvt. Ltd.) filed a petition to the Supreme Court against the government rules. Public health advocate, Action Nepal, filed a counter suit against the tobacco industry and the government appealing for an order to implement 90% PHW rules. After over 40 hearings, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition of the tobacco industry and gave the verdict for immediate implementation of 90% PHW.

Tara Singh Bam, Regional Director, The Union Asia Pacific says: “This is a win for public health and evidence of tobacco industry interference.”

Pictures of the health impacts of tobacco use are particularly effective where literacy rates are low, or multiple languages are used. They are also proven to significantly deter young smokers, who make up 20% of the total youth population in Nepal, one of the highest percentages of young smokers in South-East Asia.

According to recent findings from the STEPwise approach to NCD risk factor surveillance (STEPS) survey 2019 in Nepal, around 29% of adults (48% male and 12% female) within the age group 15–69 years used any form of tobacco. The World Health Organization estimates that around 27,000 deaths occur annually from tobacco use in Nepal, which comprises almost 15% of all deaths.

A study conducted on the effectiveness of PHWs on cigarette packaging in Nepal found that:

  • 80% of participants believed that PHWs would be effective in motivating smokers to quit
  • PHWs made 83% of the participants scared
  • PHWs made 58% of the current smokers intended to quit smoking and on average reduced their daily intake of cigarettes from 11 to five.

It is felt that the verdict will also encourage Nepal and other countries in the region to adopt plain packaging.

Nepal’s 75% warnings were also contested by the tobacco industry – a legal battle it lost in the Supreme Court as well in December 2013. This second win gives the strong message that a life-saving public health agenda will always win the fight against the corporate interests of the giant tobacco industry and its front groups.

The Union has been providing technical and legal assistance, evidence, and building capacity of government and non-government on tobacco control since 2009.