India gears up to implement stringent smoking curbs

October 1st, 2008 - 12:50 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 1 (IANS) Hotels, restaurants, airports, railway stations, offices, shops and factories Wednesday prepared to enforce a smoking ban in public across India in a major effort to curb tobacco use that authorities say kill an estimated 900,000 people in the country every year.Senior executives and supervisory officials in scores of establishments IANS contacted said they were all set to implement the tough rules whose breach can lead to hefty fines.

Police and food and drug authorities will levy fines whenever there is a violation. Besides on their respective premises, government officers, inspectors of central excise, sales tax, transport and health departments, principals of schools can fine violators.

“We have taken all steps in compliance with the notification. All arrangements have been made as required. We have already created a designated area for smokers in the hotel,” Richa Sharma, communication officer of ITC Maurya Sheraton, told IANS.

Asked if their business would get affected, Sharma said: “A lot of guests are unhappy with the ban and it is quite obvious that hospitality business will be affected by this.”

The new Smoking in Public Places Rules 2008 that was notified this month would come into force from Oct 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The new law states that all hotels with less than 30 rooms and restaurants with a seating capacity below 30 will be barred from allowing their guests to smoke.

“Bigger ones may come up with a smoking lounge but it will be mandatory that smoke from inside the lounge must not affect people outside it,” said a health ministry official.

The Supreme Court Monday upheld the government ban on smoking in public places from Oct 2. The order came after hearing counsel for various tobacco producers, including ITC, and the federations of hoteliers. The court dismissed their fears that the ban, empowering various government officials to impose fines against offenders, would usher in an “inspector raj”, a regime in which a citizen would remain under watch by government inspectors.

The new rule has 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. If caught, smokers will have to cough up Rs.200 and owners of the premises are equally liable.

Despite stringent rules, the organisations working in the field of tobacco control are apprehensive whether the rule will be implemented stringently.

Monika Arora, executive director of Hriday, a leading NGO in the field of tobacco control, said: “Unless urgent action is taken, one billion people this century - more than two-thirds in the developing world - could die from tobacco-caused illness. In India, while two-thirds of the people are non-smokers, many are nonetheless exposed to deadly cigarette and bidi smoke.”

Airport and the railway authorities have also issued circulars to implement the ban.

A.K. Chopra, the joint director general in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which is the regulatory body of the aviation sector, said airports across the country are already no-smoking zones.

“We do not allow smoking in our offices. Instructions have been issued to other departments concerned to follow the new law on smoking,” Chopra added.

Anil Kumar Saxena, the director of public relations of Indian Railways, said: “Already the ban is imposed on smoking at public places. We will again send circulars to all stations to implement the ban.”

Hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives due to smoking-related diseases in India every year. They are at risk from all cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and stroke and cancer. Government estimates say that though the tobacco industry brings revenue of Rs.270 billion to the country every year, the treatment cost of the disease burden is at least Rs.300 billion.

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