Even one year after the enforcement of the Smoke free law in India, more than 50 per cent of the places are out of compliance across India.
An air quality monitoring study was conducted by Voluntary Health Association of India, The Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Health Association, and several other tobacco control organizations around India. The study helped identifying the quality of air in public places like restaurants, bars, pubs etc. in 16 states across India.
The study revealed that the smoke- free places had significantly lower pollution levels than places where smoking was observed. Among all 211 indoor places combined, pollution levels were 81 per cent less smoke-free places than places where smoking was observed. The level of particle air pollution (PM2.5) in the places with observed smoking is over 32 times higher than the World Health Organization target air quality guideline for PM2.5- which is pm/m3 (annual mean). In total “No Smoking” signage was absent. Smoking was prevalent even in the places where signages were present. Out of 24 places for which information is available at 7 places employees were actively helping in smoking by lightning the cigarette for customers.
The amount of smoking, a major source of particulate air pollution, was recorded as well. All of the indoor locations sampled in the study were required to be smoke-free by law.
This study is consistent with the findings of the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and provides further evidence that indoor smoking causes exposure to harmful levels of air pollution. Employees and patrons exposed to tobacco smoke in these places are at increased risk of a wide range of adverse health effects including heart attack and lung cancer. Pregnant women in these environments risk pre-term delivery and decreased fetal growth of their babies.
This study demonstrates a need to implement and increase compliance with the smoke-free air law by ensuring that no-smoking signage is prominently placed and respected in all enclosed public places, and restricting smoking near building entrances or corridors. The DSR provision of the smoke-free air law is being widely ignored. Unfortunately, no public policy allowing for DSRs has ever been demonstrated to eliminate the hazards of SHS exposure to employees and patrons. Therefore, the Indian smoke-free air law should be modified to create completely smoke-free indoor spaces, with no DSRs. Only 100% smoke-free air laws have been widely accepted and proven to be effective in creating safe environments for workers and patrons in countries around the world.
Studies of this type have been conducted internationally to compare the air pollution levels from secondhand smoke across the world. Countries that have successfully passed a smoke-free air law have enjoyed cleaner air in their indoor establishments and have gained tremendous citizen support.
Secondhand smoke exposure from cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs can be harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers. To protect individuals from the effects of secondhand smoke, the Indian government enacted a smoke-free air law restricting smoking in public places as of October 2, 2008.
As per the Indian smoke-free law, smoking is not allowed in enclosed public places. However, places serving 30 or more persons may allow smoking as long as designated smoking rooms (DSRs) are present. The law prescribes strict guidelines on how these DSRs should be structured so that smoke from these DSRs does not escape to the rest of the establishment. It does not allow food or drink to be served in these DSRs with the intent of protecting workers and patrons from secondhand smoke.
According to this law, persons responsible for public places (i.e., managers, owners, proprietors, and supervisors) are expected to comply with the law and may be fined for not enforcing smoke-free activity. Their responsibilities include:
Preventing and/or stopping persons from smoking inside or near entranceways/exits of their establishment, unless inside a sealed DSR.
Displaying signage on smoking restrictions throughout their establishments.
Ensuring that ashtrays, matches, and lighters are removed/not made available in their establishments
(The author is a health and development journalist. She can be contacted at: email@example.com)