Goa smokers take their last puffs in favourite café

October 1st, 2008 - 11:01 am ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Oct 1 (IANS) It’s evening and a haze of bluish smoke hovers sluggishly over a few tables at Café Prakash, a watering hole near the Mandovi river that fringes this Goan capital.Café Prakash is popular with journalists, out-of-office politicians, activists and several other social mavericks. You get the day’s gossip with your cups of sweet milky tea.

In the evenings, most of the tables are cornered by journalists, who puff away at their cigarettes as they get ready for their shifts on the news desks. But with the smoking ban coming into effect Thursday, they are gearing up for a tectonic change in their lifestyle.

Kalpesh Sakhalkar, who runs Café Parkash, hints that smokers may just have to wind up their act. “We’ll lose some customers who come in for a smoke along with their cup of tea. But then, on the other hand, my father and I may live longer,” he quips, indicating that passive smokers could now breathe easy.

Erol Jorge, an assistant news editor with a leading national daily, is already confronting a new kind of withdrawal symptom, as he smokes his last few cigarettes at the café. “We all know smoking is bad for health, but I smoke three cigarettes a day and technically that makes me a non-smoker,” Jorge told IANS.

A deputy news editor at a local English daily and a regular Café Prakash patron, Ashley do Rosario claims that he would play it by the ear. “I’ll still come to this place and smoke, till such time I’m caught. Then maybe I’ll shift to my car for a smoke. Worse comes to worst, I may quit.”

There are others like social activist Anil Naik who was puffing away his woes after he was suspended from work.

Septuagenarian Nagesh Karmali, president of the Goa Freedom Fighters’ Association, is a café frequenter too. He can recall cigarette smoking lore over many years. “Passing Show was the cheapest but a popular cigarette brand then. It was imported from England. It was the colonial equivalent of the Charminar brand.”

A non-smoker now, Karmali is caught between two smokers as he speaks. He is desperate to find another seat. “Inhaling smoke makes me uneasy now,” he complains.

Ralin Sequeira is one of the smokers flanking Karmali. “Why don’t they stop the source? Once cigarette manufacturing is stopped, they’ll solve the problem once and for all,” he says, adding that he’s even willing to shell out some money to drop by the café for a smoke.

The Goa government is in no mood to listen to smokers like Ralin.

It’s going out of its way to ensure that the new amendments to the Smoking in Public Places Rules 2008 are implemented firmly. A special task force has been formed to ensure that the rules are enforced strictly.

National Organization for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE), a Goa-based anti-tobacco organisation which has been lobbying for this ban, is happy. It is gearing up for the implementation phase. “We are happy that a task force will be empowered to enforce the act and not the police. This ban will work because now the onus of keeping a place smoke-free rests not on the smokers, but on the proprietors. It will act as a firm deterrent,” Shekhar Salkar, general secretary of NOTE, told IANS.

NOTE, which has in the past taken celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan to court for having been shown on film posters chewing a cigar, has also begun a drive to recruit National Social Service (NSS) volunteers from colleges and manpower from other NGOs to help the task force enforce the ban on smoking.

“We already have a tobacco control cell. Now we will set up a task force for each of the two districts in Goa,” Salkar said, adding that the task force teams planned to conduct inspections every week at public places, which have been listed in the new legislation.

“We are also pursuing a hike in the fines from Rs.200 to Rs.5,000 per violator,” he said, adding that he had discussed the issue with Goa’s Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan@gmail.com)

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