Friday, October 08, 2010

The right to smoke

This is something that I have been thinking about for quite some time now. There was a ban some time back, and rightly so, on smoking in public places. However, this ban was not thought through properly and hence was a draconian system that really hurt smokers. Let me explain why I thought so.

Just like non-smokers have a right to not inhale cigarette smoke, smokers have a right to smoke. If there is a ban on smoking at the airport or the train stations then there ought to be a smoking zone demarcated at those places that allows smokers to smoke. Well, it is not an illegal activity. Every adult above the age of 18 has a right to smoke tobacco.

If one were to walk into an airport, and pee near the check-in counters, the person would be fined or put behind bars. The person would be told that ‘there are loos in this airport and that’s where you need to go and pee’. So to ensure that a person can answer the call of nature, all airports and stations have loos. After all, it is everybody’s right to go take a pee.

Somehow, this sort of consideration is not shown towards smokers. We need to go and indulge from time to time. It is legal. What is not acceptable is that smoking zones aren’t always given to indulge in a perfectly legal activity. Till the Bombay airport was refurbished, there weren’t any smoking zones. I am yet to hear of any train station having a smoking zone. The Calcutta airport does not have a smoking zone. Most restaurants and pubs have been dictated to ban smoking on the tables, but they have not been dictated to ensure that an area is given for smokers to smoke. I would certainly feel like a wretch smoking on a restaurant table and a kid sitting nearby inhaling that smoke. But why couldn’t Ramadoss feel like a wretch when I could not indulge in a perfectly legal activity?

There are also some who get into the MORAL of the whole thing. I have read and heard time an again, senseless things like ‘smoking should be completely banned in India’; ‘Cigarettes are the causes of so many deaths’ and so on and so forth. Well, let me put some statistics forward. Out of the total revenue that India earns, 8.8% is earned from excise duty of cigarettes alone. Bidis, cigars etc. contribute a further 3.3% to the government’s coffers.

Furthermore, the tobacco industry employs 62 lakh people in India. Bidi manufacturing is the biggest cottage industry in the country. So all those who want to ban smoking completely in India, please consider these facts. Banning smoking would not only lead to a huge dent in India’s revenues, it would mean 62 lakh jobless people in one go, just for some nonsensical people’s so-called high-moral ground.

Some might cite the fact that smoking leads to cancer and that needs to be a reason enough to ban smoking. This argument is rubbish. Firstly, smokers who get cancer are extremely heavy smokers and even among them not all get cancer. Secondly, there are more people in India who suffer from diabetes and high cholesterol than cigarette related diseases.

So, first ban sugar so that diabetics can live. Ban butter and cheese so that nobody in India suffers from cholesterol problems. Then talk about banning cigarettes. And, may I add, cigarettes give more employment and revenue to India than butter and cheese and sugar.

The same NGOs and saviours of the earth will not move their bums to ensure that a Govt. of India ruling – cigarette shops should not exist within 200 meters of any school – is stringently followed. They will not ensure that a person selling a fag to an underage kid is put behind bars. They will not work to ensure that there are no cigarette shops within 200 meters of a school. I can show you many cigarette shops in India that are within a few meters from a school.

Well, I hope the right of smokers is preserved. They are old enough; they are indulging in a legal activity; and they should be given their space to smoke. There should not be a draconian rule like what exists in places like, say, Phoenix mills in Bombay – where one cannot smoke anywhere in acres and acres of place.

Punish the irresponsible smoker who smokes at the airport. But also ensure that he has an option of walking into a smoking room somewhere nearby. That way both smokers and non-smokers would remain happy.