Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 18:38 UK

Indians told to stub it out in public

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

A man smokes in India
Officials say smoking kills 2,500 people in India every day

In Delhi's central commercial district of Connaught Place, lunch breaks are usually a busy time for Bhag Chand Jain.

He sits in his tiny square kiosk outside a multi-storey building, selling potato crisps, cola, sweets, chewing gum and cigarettes.

There is a constant stream of customers - many want pouches of chewing tobacco, but most come to him for cigarettes.

The smokers light their cigarettes from a rope tied to the side of the kiosk, its lower end lit like a glowing ember.

Among the buyers are two young women - they light their cigarettes and begin to walk towards their office building a few metres away.

"Please don't write our names. Our parents don't know that we smoke," one of them says.

Their office building has been declared a no-smoking zone in preparation for the government ban on smoking in public places which comes into effect on 2 October.


"Earlier we used to smoke in the stairwell. For some time now we've been coming out of the building to smoke - we can't light up inside any more," she says.

For these women, a smoking break used to be fun and a way of connecting with their social group. Not any longer.

"We feel like pariahs now," they say, standing out on the road in the 34C Delhi heat.

Banker Sambhav Mahapatra takes a long drag on his cigarette. "It's a waste of time. Earlier my cigarette break was three to four minutes. Now it's 15 to 20 minutes," he fumes.

It is this feeling of annoyance the authorities hope will clinch their campaign against smoking.

Experts say smokers smoke less when they are not able to smoke indoors in a social setting.

Health authorities in Britain say 400,000 smokers had given up smoking within a year of a similar ban being introduced there.

India's Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss says the ban in India will "discourage the smokers, make them quit or at least reduce smoking".

To help those willing to try to kick the habit, the health ministry has announced plans to set up 100 tobacco cessation clinics in the country over the next two years.

'Big worry'

"Smoking kills 900,000 people in India every year, 2,500 people in a day and 102 people every hour. And 40% of all cancer cases in India are due to smoking," says Dr Sajeela Maini, president of the Tobacco Control Foundation of India.

Priyanka Dahiya
We need to protect the non-smokers, says lawyer Priyanka Dahiya

Dr Maini runs a cessation clinic at a private hospital in Delhi.

She has worked with about 5,000 people in the past decade and runs special group sessions for public and private organisations.

"I get patients from 12 years to 75 years, both men and women. My programme helps them quit in the first stage, and in the second it is to ensure that they remain quitted," she says.

"The ban on smoking in public places is a good idea, but my biggest worry is that the smokers will now start smoking more at home."

The main aim of the ban, officials say, is to protect the passive smokers.

"Now who is the biggest passive smoker? It's the family - the wife and the children," says Dr Maini.

She is also concerned that many smokers may shift to chewing tobacco if they are unable to smoke in their offices.

"What we need is a complete ban on production and availability of tobacco products," she says.

The ban is giving sleepless nights to owners of restaurants, bars and pubs in India.

According to the notification issued by the health ministry, any restaurant or bar with a seating capacity of 30 or more can have a smoking zone, but only if it is enclosed by high walls on all four sides.

'Affect business'

It's a tall order - most restaurants, bars and pubs do not have that kind of space.

It's a week night, but Q'ba, a bar and restaurant in Connaught Place is buzzing.

Of the 250-300 people who come here on any given day, approximately 75 to 100 smoke, says general manager Sunil Tikku.

A woman smokes a hookah in India
According to official statistics, 120 million Indians smoke cigarettes

"People come here to eat, drink and also smoke. They will now have to go out on the street to smoke. The ban will definitely affect our business, we don't know how much though," Mr Tikku says.

But authorities insist that businesses will not be affected as trends world over have shown that customers prefer non-smoking places.

"Tobacco is harmful to people. And by this ban the government is trying to protect the right of the non-smokers," says Priyanka Dahiya, a lawyer with the Delhi-based anti-tobacco group, Hriday.

"I'm asthmatic. I know how it feels. There are so many women who are suffering from asthma and other similar diseases because their husbands smoke. And their children are affected too. We need to protect them from this smoke," she says.

The non-smokers say the law has been long overdue. But many here say that legislation alone is not enough; what is needed is its strict implementation.

India has many laudable laws, but they often fail because of poor implementation and enforcement.

"Yes, passive smoking is a big health hazard. But how practical is this law? According to law, there are 10 other things you cannot do, but when has that stopped anyone?" asks one sceptic.

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