A day after the Supreme Court directed tobacco companies to carry larger pictorial warnings on their products, various farmers and micro-retailers staged a protest against the move in Bengaluru on 5 May.
The protesters reportedly demanded a rollback of the rule mandating 85 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco products, and called it a "harsh policy" that did not consider the interests of stakeholders.
Leaders of Federation of All India Farmer Associations, representing tobacco growers and Karnataka State Beedi Cigarette Traders Association, alleged that the policy was being implemented in an undemocratic manner. The bodies alleged that the move had been taken abruptly without taking into consideration the interests of millions of farmers, factory workers, rural workers and micro-retailers.
"We are unable to understand as to why the government wants us, the small retailers to be surrounded by horrifying pictures all the time," Karnataka State Beedi Cigarette Trade Association President B N Murali Krishna said.
"We do not want to be forced to deliver these messages as they are against the interests of millions of fellow members and struggling communities," Krishna said.
He said if the USA which was considered the epitome of health and democratic rights had found graphic health warnings undemocratic, "then what argument does India have to push large, shocking warnings of 85 per cent on tobacco packs?" FAIFA Joint Secretary Vikram Raj Urs said farmers were facing severe challenges with water crisis, slower demand, expensive credit and ongoing disturbances in the tobacco industry which will cause a big financial loss to them.
According to the Karnataka State Beedi Cigarette Traders Association, 45.7 million people were dependent on tobacco industry in the country and no organisation or individual representing their interest was consulted when the rules were framed in 2014.
It also said that cigarettes are the most smuggled item in the country after gold but they do not have graphic warnings.
The implementation of larger graphic health warnings was neither practical, nor was it in the interest of either the consumer, the retailer, the farmer or the government, the association contended, appealing to the union government to roll back the new policy.