On a day when a Mumbai restaurant manager was done to death after he tried to stop drunk customers from smoking inside his establishment, the government said it would rope in bus conductors, railway ticket checkers and health officials to bolster a faltering anti-smoking drive.
Violate the ban on smoking in public places and you will pay Rs 200, according to a health ministry notification. The amount remains the same as the existing fine, just that more people have been empowered not just to stop smokers, but also to fine them.
Simply put, education inspectors, government counsels in courts, panchayati raj officials in villages, policemen above the rank of sub inspector and even bus conductors can fine you.
Since the ban on smoking in public places was imposed on October 2 last year, only 22,275 smokers have been fined: India has an estimated 194 million smokers.
The Indian Council for Medical Research data shows tobacco kills over 10 lakh (one million) people in India each year — 3,000 every day.
“The ban is not about fining smokers but promoting non-smokers’ rights. The fact that non-smokers have a right to clean air is not highlighted enough. Bans work only when the general public starts asking smokers to stub their butts,” said Monika Arora, head, tobacco control, Public Health Foundation of India.
Most people don’t even know where to complain. And though it is poorly advertised, the Union health ministry’s toll-free
tobacco-control helpline gets almost 500 calls a month.
“We logged 5,865 calls during the past year, some asking for information and others registering complaints,” said Viney Singh, tobacco-control officer, ministry of health, who picked up the phone of the second ring.
“Along with raising taxes, smoking bans implemented have been shown to be effective in bringing down smoking,” said Arora. “Introducing a similar ban on smoking in public places and raising tobacco taxes in New York in 2002 lowered overall smoking rates by 21 per cent, with the drop being a high 50 per cent among teenagers.”