Anti-smoking ban: more awareness but habits die hard

October 19th, 2008 - 10:50 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 19 (IANS) This might come as a surprise. As a Delhi government anti-smoking squad checked out Nehru Place, a business hub crowded with offices and shops, only 15-odd people were found smoking there in a span of two hours.This IANS correspondent who accompanied the squad found that while some seemed brazen, others seemed embarrassed and apologetic at being caught as they were aware of the ban on smoking in public places.

Perhaps the ban, which came into effect a fortnight ago at the instance of India’s health ministry, is beginning to work after all - though with little help from the police.

The first person to be fined in the south Delhi market was an unemployed youth, Rakesh, 24, who had come there searching for a job. He was smoking in a corridor of the market and flatly denied any knowledge of the new rules.

Pleading not to be fined as he didn’t have more than Rs.15, he finally paid up Rs.10 even though the actual fine, if caught smoking in public places, is Rs.200.

“I fined him Rs.10 even though he had only Rs.15 so that he never ever repeats the mistake again. Such is the problem of addiction that even when we have little money, we spend it on such harmful products,” duty magistrate R.M. Mathur, who was part of the squad, told IANS.

Also in the squad were pharmacist Rajneesh Gupta and two nursing orderlies, Dinesh Gupta and Minz. At present, Delhi has eight squads with four persons each in a squad.

They were out to implement the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules, 2008, that came into force Oct 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The next to be caught was P.K. Yadav, a computer professional, who was standing just a few metres away from Rakesh. He was fined Rs.100 but there was no trace of remorse or embarrassment on his face.

For the next 10 minutes, no other smoker was found.

To this Mathur offered an explanation, “The south district area is much more disciplined as compared to other areas. All the hotels and restaurants here have become no-smoking zones after the new rules.”

The squad then moved a few hundred metres away to Chandrashekhar Pandey, a resident of Dakshin Puri, who was smoking openly and his friend Susheel, who was just about to light a beedi, a leaf-rolled cigarette.

When confronted, Sushil instantly threw away the beedi, but Pandey kept smoking.

“Yes, I know about the new smoking ban,” he said but blatantly refused to pay the fine after being forced to part with his cigarette.

Before he could be whisked away to a police booth, squad member Dinesh Gupta spotted a woman foreign tourist puffing away. As soon as the tourist was told about the rules, she threw away her cigarette, apologised and left with her friends.

A moment later, when the squad turned around, Pandey was nowhere to be found. He had slipped away.

Said Mathur, “This is the kind of problem we face when we don’t have the police force with us. We had informed the Kalkaji police station but it’s afternoon now, and still no one has come to help us. There is no cooperation from the police.”

The new rules have expanded the definition of public places from government buildings to include all office buildings, hospitals, schools, colleges, railway stations, airports, bus stands, hotels and restaurants. Even the owners of the premises can be held liable.

The squad fined Shankar Panwala, who owns a small kiosk in front of Paras cinema, for not putting up a board which states that no one less than 18 years of age will be sold tobacco products. He had in fact left his 10-year-old son to manage the shop while he slept!

Another person who was caught nearby was Syed Kasim Ali who, after being fined, hung around for at least 15 more minutes to learn more about the act.

A businessman dealing in computers, Pramod Kalra, was caught smoking near an eatery. He not only apologised but was quite embarrassed too. Interestingly, he did confess to knowing about the rules.

A few metres away, an advertising professional, Sandeep, threw away the cigarette as soon as he saw the squad approaching. He kept saying sorry and revealed that though he knew about the rules, he was not able to control his urge to smoke. He was let off with some simple counselling.

Said Mathur, “It’s not that people don’t know about anti-smoking rules, but old habits die hard.”

“However, if we look at the larger picture, we need to appreciate that at a market like Nehru Place where at any given time of day one can find thousands of people, only 10-15 people were found smoking in a span of two hours,” Mathur added.

“Due to so much media exposure and government advertisements discouraging smoking, there is definitely more awareness after Oct 2. It is ultimately the public that has to understand and take the crusade into their own hands.”

In the past fortnight, 1,458 public places and 3,892 vehicles - primarily buses and taxis - have been raided. A total of 809 people, including two women, have been fined, besides 71 vendors, with the money amounting to Rs.101,24.

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