When it comes to smoking, the damage is not to the smoker’s health alone. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than a third of people worldwide are exposed to passive smoking. Exposure to this secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 600,000 deaths every year.
It is good news then that Delhi is cracking down on this menace, taking action against those who smoke in public by imposing fines. In 2018, around 50,000 people were fined Rs 200 each for smoking in public. This includes 10,000 booked in the south Delhi area alone.
Delhi accounts for the highest number of public smokers booked under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) since the law came into force. The law, among other things, aimed to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke by imposing a ban on public smoking – and while compliance is low in other parts of India, it is encouraging news that Delhi is putting the provisions of the Act into practice.
A breakdown of the figures suggests that those aged between twenty and thirty were the biggest offenders, with men more likely to break the law than women (men accounted for seventy percent of violators). Madhur Verma, public relations officer of Delhi Police, stated that officers were being asked to show extra vigilance in places such as bus stops, markets, metro stations and near schools. It is in these areas where violations have largely been reported.
Smoking is one of India’s biggest public health threats. The country loses Rs 1.04 trillion to smoking every year – not to mention the one million lives that are lost to the health effects of tobacco use.
“In India every day 3500 people die due to tobacco,” Dr Kailash Sharma wrote to the government in 2017. “That is equivalent to 10 jumbo jets crashing every day. This is the only consumer product, with no good use whatsoever, that kills every third consumer prematurely.”
Significant process has been made in tobacco control efforts in India over the course of recent years. Graphic health warnings, in particular, have been a major success story when it comes to cracking down on smoking, despite the efforts of India’s sizeable tobacco lobby and attempts by tobacco firms to violate the law and litigate the Centre over its tobacco-related interventions.
Even more encouragingly, India is witnessing its smoking population reduce. In the 2016-17 period, the number of smokers reduced by 81 lakh. It is clear that tobacco still incurs a significant cost when it comes to public health in India. But the work is being done – in the markets of Delhi, and the higher echelons of government.