Government plans five smoke-free cities by 2010 (May 31 is World No Tobacco Day)

May 30th, 2008 - 8:34 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss

New Delhi, May 30 (IANS) In another two years, five Indian cities will be smoke-free — according to a government proposal to tackle the ill effects of smoking. After the successful example of Chandigarh - so far the only city to have officially declared itself as smoke-free, major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad are gearing up to ban puffing in public places.

“Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad will be smoke-free cities by 2010 when India will be hosting the Commonwealth Games,” a health ministry official told IANS.

“Both cities are expected to prohibit smoking in public places, including workplaces, by 2010. We want to protect the people from the harmful affects of secondhand smoke,” said the official.

Saturday is being observed as World No Tobacco Day.

A World Health Organisation study had said that one in five of all male deaths and one in 20 of all female deaths in India in the 30-69 age group will be caused by smoking in the 2010s. It underlined that the country is in the midst of a “catastrophic epidemic”.

Though under the anti-tobacco law, smoking in public places is banned, the government wants to ensure that it is strictly enforced. “Airports and restaurants could add separate rooms for smoking. At the moment, there are no rules in this regard,” the official said.

“The law is there, but we want to give focussed attention to a particular city so that they are able to implement the law fully. We will be providing financial help to build capacity.

“We also want them to frame rules detailing which areas are smoke-free and which are not. We want them to create awareness so that when they receive complaints of someone violating the law, they could take action and fine them,” said the health ministry official.

Hemant Goswami, one of the brains behind Chandigarh strictly following the no-smoking in public law, pointed out that there are a number of laws in the country that are not strictly followed and implemented.

“We had to take recourse to legal action before the authorities heard us. We first sensitised the law enforcing agencies about implementation and enforcement of the law. We came out with warning boards and also framed rules about pinning responsibility on an official in whose area public smoking is reported,” Goswami, who heads NGO Burning Brain in Chandigarh, told IANS.

They also created awareness among government officials, educational institutions and the hotel industry on enforcing the law.

“There was also a provision that there would be no sponsorship from a tobacco company for any state function. A tobacco control cell was formed and it was stipulated that only those who do not use any kind of tobacco products would work in it.”

According to the act, a person found smoking in public places could be fined Rs.200 or sent to jail. “The central act cannot be implemented in isolation so we used the other existing provisions to strictly enforce the law,” Goswami said.

In the first three months of the announcement, officials fined 1,500 people. Police also acted on complaints.

Seeing the overwhelming public participating in ensuring that Chandigarh remains smoke-free, the Punjab government has also shown its keenness to declare the entire state as smoke-free, the official said.

“After the major cities become smoke-free, it will set an example for smaller cities,” the official said.

According to the official, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is taking keen interest in the initiative. A study is on to study the nicotine level inside buildings so that measures can be taken to enforce the Central Tobacco Act.

Concerned about the violations, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, a staunch anti-tobacco crusader who has been awarded by WHO for his stand, has announced strengthening of the existing laws against smoking in public places and hiking the penalties for people flouting the rules.

The health ministry is proposing an amendment according to which a person found smoking in public would have to pay up to Rs.1,000 and if found violating the rule in an institution, the owner of the institution will have to pay Rs.5,000 fine.

Under the 11th Five Year Plan, Rs.4.5 billion has been earmarked for the National Tobacco Control Programme, under which initiatives would be taken to create awareness among school students on the harmful affects of smoking.

The central government is planning to set up a regulatory authority for the effective implementation of anti-tobacco laws.

The Union Territory of Chandigarh banned smoking in public places, including government and public buildings, schools, hospitals, public transport, private workplaces, and even bars and restaurants last year.

“Chandigarh is an excellent example of how easy it is to enforce the law. Even in parks smoking is not allowed,” the official said.

For the smoke-free cities, WHO and Bloomberg are also providing technical and financial support.

“Our focus is on the youth of this country. A recent survey showed that an alarming 14.1 percent of children use some form of tobacco. Also, there is a huge prevalence of smoking among school teachers and the staff,” the official added.

Monika Arora, director of HRIDAY-SHAN, a voluntary organisation of health professionals and social scientists, engaged in activities aiming to promote health awareness, said laws exist only on paper.

“We have laws. But most public places in the country are not smoke free. Government alone cannot enforce the law. NGOs and civil society have to come forward to make it a successful campaign.

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