Implementation of India’s Smoke-Free Law Is a Historic Step to Protect Health

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Oct. 2 2008

Washington, D.C. — The government of India today has taken a historic step to protect the health of the nation’s more than 1.1 billion citizens by implementing a national law that requires workplaces and public places to be smoke-free. India is the largest country in the world to implement a nationwide smoke-free law, and it joins a fast-growing global movement to protect non-smokers from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke.

This law is a significant step toward reducing the devastating toll of tobacco use and secondhand smoke in India. There are more than 120 million smokers in India, second only to China, and tobacco use kills more than 700,000 Indians each year. India’s health minister has estimated that 40 percent of the country’s health problems stem from tobacco use.

India’s smoke-free law prohibits smoking in workplaces and public places including hotels, restaurants, coffee houses, pubs, airport lounges, shopping malls, cinemas, educational institutions and libraries, hospitals, auditoriums and railway stations The law is a major step forward in India. However, it will not have the desired health benefits unless the government effectively enforces it. The law allows certain establishments, such as restaurants with 30 seats or more, to build separate smoking rooms, with no food or drink allowed to be served in these rooms. The government should also move quickly to eliminate these exemptions.

Another obstacle to the law’s success is the continued strong opposition of the hospitality industry, which has filed numerous legal challenges. Earlier this week, India’s Supreme Court rejected appeals to further delay implementation of the law, which was enacted in 2003. It is critical that India’s leaders reject further efforts to delay or weaken the law and act instead to effectively implement and strengthen it.

A poll conducted in August in four Indian cities, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, found that there is near universal support for prohibiting smoking inside all public places and workplaces in India. Overall, 97 percent of Indians surveyed expressed support for the smoke-free law, with 92 percent expressing strong support. The level of strong support ranged from 89 percent in New Delhi to 97 percent in Mumbai. In addition, 84 percent said they thought secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard, and 99 percent agreed that workers should be protected from secondhand smoke.

Facts About Secondhand Smoke and Smoke-Free Laws

  • The science is beyond dispute: Secondhand smoke kills. Public health authorities worldwide, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have concluded that secondhand tobacco smoke is a major cause of serious diseases and premature death in non-smoking adults and children. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 60 known to cause cancer. It is a scientifically proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and low birth weight.
  • Everyone has a right to breathe clean air. The scientific evidence is clear that the only effective way to protect workers and the public from secondhand smoke is 100 percent smoke-free environments. Smoke-free laws must not permit any smoking indoors and must apply to all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues. Designated smoking areas and separate ventilation do not provide adequate health protections. Scientific authorities have concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • The WHO international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, requires 100 percent smoke-free areas without exceptions. Formal guidelines on implementing the treaty’s provisions on secondhand smoke, adopted by the treaty’s governing body in 2007, provide that only 100 percent smoke-free laws that include all indoor workplaces and public places meet the treaty’s requirements.
  • At least a dozen countries have adopted and successfully implemented strong, nationwide smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public places, including restaurants and bars. These include Bermuda, Bhutan, Djibouti, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uruguay, as well as 12 of 13 Canadian provinces, seven of eight Australian states/territories and 24 U.S. states (plus the District of Columbia). Mexico City has also implemented a comprehensive law, and Hong Kong is in the process of doing so.
  • Smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. Numerous scientific studies have found that smoke-free laws do not have a negative impact on the hospitality or tourism industry and in some cases may have had a positive impact.

 

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