Ban good for health, but may be injurious to hospitality business

Ban good for health, but may be injurious to hospitality business

New Delhi: India, starting Thursday, ushers in a law banning smoking in all public places, including restaurants. In doing so, it will seek to emulate public smoking ban models introduced in New York, a majority of the European countries, including France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, and most recently, Turkey as well as the UK.

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While most countries reported a small decrease in smokers and heart problems, according to media reports and surveys, they also complained of negative impact on hospitality businesses, mainly bars and restaurants.

But with India’s tobacco consuming population also consisting of chewing tobacco consumers and small-town beedi (type of cheap Indian cigarette) smokers, public health experts and those opposed to the ban say the move may not be very effective.

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Unlike India, in many Western countries, including France and Turkey, the ban on public smoking was phased in, first being imposed on partially open public spaces and a few months later on bars, restaurants, cafes, casinos and clubs. Turkey, for instance, imposed the smoking ban in May 2008 but bars, restaurants and cafes have been exempted till July 2009, giving them ample time to make arrangements for smoking rooms.

A case by cigarette maker ITC Ltd challenging the government’s May 2008 notification, proposed under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, was turned down by the Supreme Court on 29 September.

Still, questions are being raised on the success of this model in India, where almost 85% of tobacco consumption is in the form of khaini, ghutka (both flavoured chewing tobacco) and beedi, a large market for which thrives in rural areas and smaller towns. “All over the world, 90% of the tobacco consumed is in the form of cigarettes. So, a ban on smoking actually reduces tobacco consumption," said a tobacco industry executive, who did want his or his employer’s name taken.

PTI reports that an average of 2,800 people die every day in India with tobacco-related diseases, without citing a source for this information. “Cancer of lungs, lips, tongue, oral cavity, throat and larynx, uterus and urinary bladder are some of the common tobacco-related diseases," it said, adding some 184 million people consume cigarettes, beedis and gutka every day.

Pro-smoking ban organizations are optimistic about its success.

P.C. Gupta, director, Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, said besides bringing a cleaner environment to the non-smokers, the ban will also encourage them to act as volunteers and help in the prosecution of violators. “There will certainly be a trickle-down effect and greater awareness," he said.

As per the health ministry notification, a cross-section of people — from inspectors of central excise to school and college teachers — have been authorized to impose and collect the Rs200 fine from violators. It also provides for setting up Anti-Tobacco Cells in districts across India to enforce the ban in rural areas.

Tobacco industry representatives say it is too early to predict the impact of the ban on their sales, but analysts say an effect, if any, will be short-term.

In markets such as the UK, a low, single-digit, drop in tobacco consumption was seen immediately, but that impact vanished over time, said Govindarajan Chellappa and Swapnil Nadkar of Credit Suisse Securities (India) Pvt. Ltd in a recent report.

PTI contributed to this story.