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Government Bans Puffing in Public; Enforcement Is Key

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, October 11, 2008 | 10:23 AM

India Cracks Down on Smoking

The Indian government is trying to stub out smoking. On October 2, the Health Ministry put into effect a countrywide ban on lighting up in public places. Those caught violating the rule may be fined $5 -- a sizable sum in a country where per capita income is less than $1,000 a year.

Among the places where smoking will be prohibited are hotels, restaurants, schools, pubs or discotheques, hospitals, airports and bus stops. Private homes and alongside roads are among the few places where smoking will be allowed.

In India, about 250 million people, mostly men, use tobacco.

The smoking ban marks the government's most ambitious dictate to date. In India, about 250 million people, mostly men, use tobacco. "The government has decided to ban smoking, keeping in mind the number of deaths caused every year by tobacco, especially among youngsters," says B.K. Prasad, joint secretary of the Indian Health Ministry.

He estimates about 40% of the deaths in India every year are linked directly or indirectly to tobacco use.

"Most of the people are unaware of the harmful effects of smoking," adds Bhavana Mukhopadhyay, senior director for Tobacco Control, a nongovernment organization based in New Delhi. "Once they are educated that the air around them has hazardous nicotine, every nonsmoker will become a law enforcer."

In February, the World Health Organization published a report warning governments of developing countries that tobacco-related illness would cause one billion deaths during the 21st century unless urgent action is taken. Public-smoking bans have been imposed around the world, including in two U.S. states -- California and New York. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has even banned the sale of tobacco products.
[Smoking in India]

In a country with a relatively low literacy rate, the government will make pictorial warnings mandatory on all tobacco products beginning Nov. 30. Cigarette packets will carry a skull and crossbones to underscore the public-health hazard.

Not everybody is convinced the new law will work. In a country that revels in bucking public convention -- by ignoring traffic lights, for instance -- getting people to honor the ban will be an uphill battle. India also has tried to stop spitting and urinating in public, to no noticeable effect.

Ranjith Nayyar, a radio station engineer in Trivandrum, in India's southern state of Kerala, says he smokes 15 cigarettes a day and isn't about to stop because of any ban. "I'll smoke at home, particularly in my bathroom," says the 29-year-old. "I already know the evils of smoking, but for me smoking is a stress-buster."

Another heavy smoker, Ankush Mankotia, is skeptical the government can alter public behavior. "Such rules are made and broken every day," says the 26-year-old bank manager. "The ban will have no effect on me."

Insistent smokers, however, may one day feel the pinch. After rolling out its ban, the Indian government plans to raise the fine for offenders to a stiff $25.

Smoking is "an infringement on people's right to live," says Ms. Mukhopadhyay of Tobacco Control. "I don't want my children to come back with asthmatic problems by inhaling someone else's smoke."

Wall Street Journal
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