BENGALURU, MARCH 13, 2021: On No Smoking Day, which is observed every year on the second Wednesday of March doctors, cancer victims and restaurateurs urged the Government of India to remove Designated Smoking Area (DSA) at hotels/restaurants and airports to protect people from second-hand smoke. While appreciating the Government for initiating the process to amend Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003, they appealed for immediate removal of current provision that permits smoking areas to make India 100 percent smoke free and check the spread of COVID 19 infection in India.
“There is growing evidence that smoking is a risk for COVID infection. Smoking worsens lung function and reduces immunity. Smokers who develop COVID infection have more complications and greater risk of fatality. All Designated Smoking Areas in hotels, restaurants and even airports should be abolished to ensure a 100 per cent smoke free environment. Most of these DSAs are rarely compliant as per COTPA requirements and are actually putting our public at great health risk from exposure to secondhand smoke,” said Renowned Oncologist Dr Ramesh Bilimagga.
In India, smoking is banned in all public as per the COTPA 2003. Section 4 of this Act prohibits smoking in any place to which the public has access. However, COTPA 2003, presently allows smoking in certain public places like restaurants, hotels, and airports, in designated smoking areas.
“Exposure to passive smoking happens in eateries specifically hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs, risking lives of thousands of non-smokers by exposing them to the smoke of cigarettes. As cigarette smoke seeps from smoking areas to common areas, COTPA act needs to be amended, to not permit smoking in any premises. All places should be completely smoke free in the best interest of the public health,” appeals Ms Nalini Satyanarayan, a passive smoking victim and health activist.
Second-hand smoking is as harmful as smoking. Exposure to second-hand smoke causes many diseases including, lung cancer and heart disease in adults and the impairment of the lung function and respiratory infections in children. People with compromised respiratory and cardiovascular systems are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 severity and death. Designated smoking areas facilitate the spread of COVID -19 infection as smokers cannot socially distance or wear masks and are trapped in close proximity in a smoke-filled environment.
“Going 100 percent smoke-free is resulting in good health of customers, staff and increased business. Family customers prefer to dine-in at places which do not allow smoking. Children, women, and senior citizens feel uneasy when exposed to tobacco smoke. After doing away with smoking area, we have got happier customers and healthier utility of space,” says Mrs. Radha Nair, Owner of Kaara restaurant, Bengaluru. Encouraged by her booming business, she urges cafés and restaurants to go 100 percent smoke-free to boost their business.
The Government of India has started the COTPA Amendment process and introduced the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (Amendment) Bill, 2020. A recent survey conducted in India revealed that 72% believe second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard and 88% people strongly support strengthening of the current tobacco control law to address this menace.
“We applaud the Government of India for starting the amendment process of tobacco control law COTPA 2003 as this is an important step towards improving public health. There is an urgent need to strengthen the provisions for making India 100 percent smoke free as irresponsible smokers do not care about the health of people around. Apathetic non-smokers too do not register their protest and the responsible law makers hardly care to enforce the law to protect people from tobacco related diseases and deaths,’ said Mr S J Chander, Convenor of Consortium for Tobacco Free Karnataka.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature deaths globally and in India more than 12 lakhs people are losing life every year due to tobacco related diseases. India has over 26 Crore tobacco users, cutting across all demographics and genders. The total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rs 1,82,000 crore which is nearly 1.8% of India’s GDP. Tobacco use in all forms, whether smoking or chewing, is significantly also associated with severe COVID-19 casualties also as per advisories issued by the Ministry of Health and ICMR.