India's toughened ban on smoking in public places came into force yesterday 2nd October, following the government's announcement in May this year of the new Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rule, 2008, which includes work places, hotels, restaurants, discos, bars and pubs.

India has had laws against smoking in public places since 2003, including bans on mass media advertising of tobacco, except at points of sale. But the legislation brought out at that time was vague, full of loopholes and unclear guidelines, with small fines for offenders.

The tougher legislation, which has much clearer definitions of what constitutes an offence, what is a public place, and who has the power to fine offenders, came into force yesterday, and people caught smoking in public places will now be fined 200 rupees, about 4.50 dollars or 2.50 British pounds.

People will still be able to smoke at home and in open spaces.

The Indian government estimates that 900,000 people a year die of tobacco smoking, in a country where more than 120 million people, about one in 5 of the population, smoke cigarettes. By 2010, smoking related deaths will reach one million a year.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told the press that the government wants to reduce the number of smokers in India and protect people from the harmful effects of passive smoking. Thousands of people who have never smoked die every year from passive smoking, he said in a BBC News report.

The government aims to make smokers give up or reduce their smoking. Ramadoss said non-smoking employees have a right to an environment that is 100 per cent free of smoke.

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) say that research shows second hand tobacco smoke, also known as passive smoking, is dangerous to health and causes cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions in adults. At least 200,000 workers die every year from passive smoking at work.

Nearly half the world's children are passive smokers because they breathe air polluted with tobacco smoke. This makes their asthma worse and causes dangerous diseases.

The Indian health minister said he had written to all state governments asking them to make sure the ban is enforced.

A survey conducted last month by the Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health in Mumbai showed that most Indians support the ban.

92 per cent of the 1,030 people who responded to the survey in Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, strongly supported banning smoking at work, in hotels, bars, restaurants, cinemas, schools and hospitals. And 80 per cent also agreed that passive smoking, or inhaling second hand smoke was a serious hazard to health. These findings are very similar to those of surveys done in other countries that have gone smoke free, said a report in MedIndia last month.

Mumbai will be hosting the 14th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health in March next year.

According to figures from the WHO, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world. 1 in 10 people around the globe dies from tobacco related causes, and in 2005 this came to a total of 5.4 million deaths, or an average of one death every 6 seconds.

If the current rate persists, the death toll will reach more than 8 million a year by 2030, or 1 billion in total for the 21st century.

Click here for more information on 14th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health.

Source: India Ministry of Health, BBC News, WHO.

: Catharine Paddock, PhD.

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