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Shrugging Off Smoking Ban

An activist counts as a guard at a commercial complex in Mumbai does sit-ups as punishment for letting a person smoke inside.
An activist counts as a guard at a commercial complex in Mumbai does sit-ups as punishment for letting a person smoke inside. (By Rajanish Kakade -- Associated Press)
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The fine for violating the ban is the equivalent of $4.30, nearly double the official minimum wage in some Indian states for a day's work.

Enforcement appears to be highly uneven throughout the country.

In New Delhi, some live-music clubs, hotels and shopping malls appear to be enforcing the rule. At the same time, many Indians have complained that smokers are still lighting up at shops and in bars in poorer neighborhoods, and in public places where police don't often patrol.

"While traveling by bus, I told some youths to stop smoking as a ban was in place," said Kesummal Israni, a gray-haired toyshop owner. "They told me to keep quiet and mind my own business. In the first few days, there is a great deal of fear, but slowly people become lazy and forget. They continue puffing away."

Still, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who pushed hard for the law, said he hopes that Indians will obey and even help enforce the ban.

"I expect there will be problems, but it will be done. I appeal to the people to please do self-policing," he said. "The aim is to discourage the smokers, to make them quit or reduce smoking. Non-smoking employees have a right to a 100 percent smoke-free atmosphere. The perils of passive smoking are equally bad."

Ramadoss, who has been lampooned in Bollywood movies and on comedy shows for the crackdown, has called the ban the most important social and health legislation in Indian history.

A study on smoking in India released this year found that the country is in the grips of an epidemic that is likely to cause nearly a million deaths a year by 2010, including those of one in five men ages 30 to 69. There are 120 million smokers in India, half of them younger than 30, the study found.

The study said that more than half of the deaths would be among poor and illiterate people. Many working-class Indians smoke bidis, or small, cheaply made cigarettes rolled in leaves that cost the equivalent of 50 cents for a pack of 25.

Even as smoking rates decline in many countries, sales of tobacco products in India continue to rise. An estimated 102 billion cigarettes are sold there every year.

Sitting in his roadside stall, Pancham Singh said he had to remove matches and lighters from his store so customers wouldn't light up outside his shop.

"The banning of smoking in public has directly impacted my business. Our day-to-day roti is snatched from our mouths," he said, referring to Indian bread. "But whose role is it to stop smokers? No one has any idea. Despite the ban being in place, I myself have seen a guard, policemen and persons in a public park smoking away."

Special correspondent Ria Sen contributed to this report.

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