Will India’s Smoking Ban Work?

India has imposed a nationwide smoking ban, but how well will it work? The ban, launched in commemoration of Gandhi’s birthday came into effect October 2. The fine for smoking in public is stiff – at first, it’s a warning, and then a fine of five American dollars, or 200 rupees – more than most people earn in a day. It’s not the first time a smoking ban has been initiated in India, but such laws are often publicly ignored.

The New England Journal of Medicine, earlier this year, published a paper warning that deaths from smoking in India could reach a million by 2010. Lead author Dr Prabhat Jha, at that time, speculated that bans on smoking “might save several hundreds of thousands of lives if well implemented and enforced."

The impetus is directed at protecting those who don’t smoke. However, the plan could be misguided. Dr Sajeela Maini, (president of the Tobacco Control Foundation of India) told the BBC, "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. Now, who is the biggest passive smoker? It's the family--the wife and the children. What we need is a complete ban on production and availability of tobacco products," she says. Another concern from Dr. Maini is that chewing tobacco may become more prevalent. Dr. Jha disagrees with the theory that smoking at home will escalate, saying there is no data to support the notion.

ITC Ltd., India’s largest tobacco producer plans an attempt to overturn the ban next month in the Supreme Court. While many have welcomed the ban, others have concerns about the impact on their business – including bar owners. Dr Jha, in an interview with heartwire, would also like to see increases in tobacco prices, and prominent warning labels to increase the success of India’s smoking ban.

This is the world’s biggest smoking ban – if successful, it could save millions of lives. Pamphlets, articles and newspapers are all being utilized to promote awareness. We know that smoking bans have been successful, reducing hospital admissions and risk of heart disease.

Preventing unnecessary illnesses, through lifestyle changes, is always a good agenda, but smoking cessation is one of major difficulty. History shows that smoking bans can be difficult to enforce. Better health, monetary savings, and emphasis on public education should provide the right combination for success. Tobacco cessation has truly become a global priority – now is the time to get the help you need to quit.

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