The blow will perhaps be the hardest for restaurant and pub owners. They fear falling footfall from October 2, when the ban on smoking in public places comes into effect.
“This ban is bad news for us; about 80 per cent of our guests smoke. If people don’t get to smoke at restaurants, they will do it at home. So, how will the ban be a deterrent?” says Ranjeet Singh, manager of Bamboo Garden at Priya Complex, Vasant Vihar.
Santosh Shetty, general secretary of AHAR, the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association, questioned the ban when sale of cigarettes is allowed. “If cigarettes are being sold, there should be a place for people to smoke,” he argues. “It is true that restaurants and bars are public places but people come here by choice. Those who don’t like smoke go to other places. There are many Udipi and vegetarian restaurants where owners don’t allow smoking.”
AHAR has over 6,000 members, including restaurants, bars and permit rooms in Mumbai.
Owners of hookah bars, which have been facing the heat from Mumbai’s civic body, say they could go out of business. “We have suffered major losses since we stopped serving hookahs. If smoking is also banned, it will worsen,” says Anwar Saiyed, owner of Sheesha Mezbaan, a popular hookah joint in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb.
In Delhi, Dr DK Sharma, the medical superintendent at the AIIMS, says it will not be easy to enforce the law. “We have strict orders to fine anyone found smoking on AIIMS campus, but no one has been fined so far. It’s difficult to keep a track of the many thousands visiting the hospital every day.”
But while some fear and others fume at the ban, evidence from Ireland — which has a prominent pub culture — holds out good news for restaurant owners here.
Smoking in public places was banned there in 2004, says Dr Shrinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. But, it has not affected business. “The tobacco industry argued that smoking was an integral part of the country’s pub culture and enforcing it would not only be impossible but also affect business. The country has now been smoke-free for over three years with strong public support and no negative impact on business.”