No one could smoke or chew tobacco while standing in line to vote during the recent civic elections in Delhi. This is because for the first time the in the country, polling booths were declared as no tobacco zones by the State Election Commission.
“People usually have an off on the polling day and they spend the time talking to their friends and family when they stand in the queue. It was very common for people to consume tobacco while waiting. This is the first time that the polling booths were declared to be tobacco free zones – that means no smoking or chewing. Earlier, smoking had been prohibited in the polling booths during the 2015 general elections and 2015 state assembly elections,” said Dr SK Arora, additional director of health, Delhi government.
There were a total of 13,234 polling booths for the elections, all of which prominently displayed banners at the entrance stating it was tobacco free zone. “The presiding officer was the designated nodal officer to ensure implementation. Even the district health teams visited around 1,400 booths to ensure that the booths did not allow people to smoke or chew tobacco,” said Dr Arora.
In fact, the implementation was proper and 100% of the polling booths had the banners and there were 0 violations recorded, according to him.
“Declaring the booths to be tobacco free zones is easy, but implementing it is difficult. So, we had a three-tier system in place to ensure implementation – the nodal officer in each booth, the district health teams and we also asked the voters to fill in the form to tell us about any violations,” he said.
It was also an opportunity for awareness generation among a large population. “There are around 1.33 crore adult voters in Delhi and around 54% turned up for polling. This means more than 65 lakh people were exposed to our messages about quitting tobacco. No campaign can reach such a huge audience,” said Dr Arora.
The nodal officers were given the power to challan violators or a court challan could be sent later on. “For smoking, the violaters can be fined R 200 – 500 currently. And, for chewing tobacco, the person can be held responsible for storing tobacco according to the directions of food safety department. And the penalty for the violation can be as high as R 2 lakhs and/or 6 years in jail, because chewing tobacco is banned in Delhi,” said Dr Arora.