Smoking in public places is a highly contentious issue today. It’s been nearly five years since the Indian government banned smoking in public places in its effort to reduce tobacco use. In 2008, the then Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss took up this drastic step despite being aware that enforcement is difficult in India. Overnight, Ramadoss became a hero for NGOs and government research bodies that were fighting for a ban on tobacco consumption due to huge economic costs and the loss of human lives. But for individual smokers and the hospitality industry, he was a villain who curtailed individual rights!

still Smoking - Pictorial warning by WHO
Pictorial warning by WHO

Smoking of cigarettes in public places, advertising cigarettes in media, sale of cigarettes near educational institutions were all banned. However, beedies which account for nearly 48% of Indian tobacco consumption have not seen any curtailment whatsoever. Similarly, gutkha and chewing tobacco have flourished without any ban despite being threats to addicts. Selling gutkha sachets to minors is commonplace across India, who seem oblivious of the serious health effects. Chewing tobacco and gutkha contribute to 90% of oral cancer cases in the country, with 75,000-80,000 cases reports every year. I have a personal experience with two of my college classmates dying of cancer due to smoking and gutkha addiction before the age of 30!

smoking in public
Smoking in public

We Indians excel in doing anything illegal; the more unlawful it is, the more thrill we get out of it. Check out the list –

  • Urinating in public (yes, it is illegal in some states!)
  • Riding a bike without a helmet
  • Jumping the queue in public places
  • Child labour in restaurants
  • Running a food joint without license

Now smoking in public places has joined the list of prohibited acts. Yes, fewer numbers of my colleagues are joining the smoking bandwagon due to the prohibition at office premises. I really pity those addicted colleagues of mine who have to go way out of the premises to enjoy their daily puff. While it is nice to have clearer air in restaurants, railway stations and offices, it is highly discriminatory to push smokers into dark alleys. Ban on smoking in bars and pubs is the height of stupidity. While we condone one type of substance abuse, the other type is banned!

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to mankind! Obviously, quitting nicotine addiction is a tough task due to the severe withdrawal symptoms, which are similar to any other drug abuse. Can’t believe that nicotine is as addictive as other psychotropic substances… check this scientific study – Addictive Properties of Popular Drugs

According to smoking addiction therapist Suresh Shottam, a ban on smoking does not help smokers who are already addicted or those young ones who are falling prey to it. Bangalore-based Shottam practices a cognitive therapy named Allen Carr’s EASYWAY to help people quit smoking. He was a smoker himself for 20 years when he got to know about Allen Carr’s therapy. Once he quit smoking and has not craved for it ever since.

Willpower not needed!

Suresh Shottam
Suresh Shottam

Talking about de-addiction, Shottam makes a shocking statement – “You don’t need willpower to quit smoking!” He says, “To begin with, using the word ‘quitting’ or ‘giving up’ is wrong. You are not a quitter when you stop your dependence on something! It takes no willpower to stop doing something that an individual has no desire to do, which is the realisation smokers come to once their fear about stopping have been removed”.

Family and friends of smokers need to help by refraining from nagging them and allowing them to take their own time to decide. Smokers should set a particular date to stop and carry on smoking as usual until then. They should not try to reduce their amount beforehand, because that just makes cigarettes seem more precious rather than less precious! Once they quit, they should never be fooled into thinking just one cigarette is OK. Similarly, they should not substitute cigarettes with nicotine strips, chocolate, coffee or anything else. That creates a feeling of deprivation.

I wonder why our beloved government, which worries so much about ban and its implementation, never bothers about treating the addiction. When was last time we saw a government de-addiction campaign? This World No Tobacco Day, let’s take a vow to help smokers to stop rather than admonish them.

Factfile –
http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2008/07/07/it-pays-to-use-an-indian-public-toilet/
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/309608/86-per-cent-global-oral.html
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/4-yrs-after-smoking-ban-study-to-see-how-it-has-worked/1000370/
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article3484013.ece
http://www.blogger.com/profile/08047999674455420218
http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/28#sthash.BtboIahl.dpbs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutkha

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Levine Lawrence
Stuck inside an air-conditioned cubicle... i yearn to ride into the countryside... under the open blue skies, where farmers toil in the field, smell mitti ki khushboo, fill more greenery into the picture... travel across the world, meet more people, bring smile on faces... and finally, work for world peace. Just like those Miss World statements! I am a veteran media professional with 12 years of diverse experience in business media and research in India. Apart from my full time job as a researcher, I have been an avid travel photo-journalist, who has covered the art & cultural aspects of South India. Further, I am actively involved in the voluntary organisations working on energy efficiency, organic farming and environmental issues.