A Ban Up In Smoke

The health ministry has come up with an excellent thought to let the smokers do the smoking in their private spaces. It is a good initiative. But a few weeks have passed since the implementation and the ban has not shown the effect it actually should have. Now I am not even sure if the ban is going to generate the much needed cash for the coffers. The officers responsible for keeping the ban don’t seem all that keen at upholding their new jobs. It had happened last year too, the day even cops were not spared and cameras had a field day in the sun. That day all the newspapers had shown people getting caught and fined. A bedazzled army officer, caught smoking, had no idea what to do. Whether he should run off or fight for something he cannot. Poor college kids caught on camera with the smokes held high, wonder what they felt seeing their fathers back home. All social bonding coming down to the ‘little’ advice they were to get from the loved ones. Harsh, the media can be at times.

Maybe the ban has gone too far as well. Most drinkers like the customary cigarette along with their beer. The government should have kept it in mind while issuing the orders. The ban should have been limited to restaurants and coffee houses or maybe even a disque. But they should have left the pubs alone. The non-smokers could have been told that the area is a smoking zone. Non-smokers, if they want to eat, have every other place to go anyway! A smoker today, even if he wants to risk his lungs while drinking, cannot do so inside the pubs. Ironically, they have cigarette shops outside every pub. Those they will never remove as they will eat into the poor man’s earnings. The law should be more stringent on the manufacturer than the consumer really. He should be the one who should be made to invest heavily in health care. The manufacturer should be responsible for ensuring insurance cover to a smoker who is being denied the cover by Health insurers. The responsibility of the manufacturer is downplayed time and again. They should be answerable rather than the smoker, who is practically induced by the manufacturer.

The problem is that it is just as good as every other ban in India. It should have been given more thought and along with this there should have been a complimentary mechanism already in place. The thinking seems to be that- let us ban it, the mechanism will come as and when it has to. The tobacco lobby, well aware of this drawback, incidentally wanted to put a stay because of just this. They argued incessantly that that there is not enough mechanism to tackle the ban. In this regard we all know that the arguments were based on nothing except big money of the tobacco lobby. They fear some cut in their business for sure. Trends outside India have portrayed this fact well. Most countries with ban have seen drops of 2-5 percent annually, which may not happen in the same numbers in India, owing to our audience size. For us, even a marginal reduction shall be good.

Besides it is more of a rich man’s ban. The poor be spared the right to smoke his one ‘beedi’ or the pack too. There are many inspectors in every corner of Delhi, but often seen is people discussing with them the effect of the ban. This small talk is of course accompanied with the customary small Gold Flake. The officers, if there are any, are only roaming in places like Connaught Place or Khan Market. Somehow, when I stood outside DSOI on the Dhaula Kuan Bus-Stand, I was not surprised to see the smokers doing their business in our faces as usual. Being one of the busiest bus stands, it is surprising that the government has not cracked the whips on places like these. If law must prevail it must be equally for all sections.

We have taken cue from most European countries where there is a ban in place. Although they have many more stipulations alongside, and no place has a blanket ban. Some countries allow establishments of sizes less than 40metre square to get an exemption from the ban. On the other hand to be fair, the ministry has asked these establishments to have separate ventilated rooms for smokers, which should already have been the norm. In some ways it is looking like a blanket ban because of the inadequacy within our own establishments as well. They have left the law with enough ambiguity to allow the smokers some freedom.

To make such a campaign the ministry has to put in many more pro active steps as the present ban has simply served as a ban in joints which were never really a non-smokers haven. We cannot compare our system with any European country which has excellent monitoring systems for such bans. We do not even see our officials doing their basic bit of work; we cannot expect them to go out in the streets everyday to catch the smoker. They will never. In the long run if it is ever successful we will see a big cut in our health bills. This can be put to better use in our country. Every decrease in the Tobacco industry is a reason to cheer for most Indians.

Abhik Sen
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