A group of doctors, cancer victims and restaurateurs has expressed concerns about passive smoking and urged the Centre to remove smoking zones from various public places.
According to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce Production, Supply and Distribution) Act COTPA 2003, smoking is banned in all public places, but allowed in designated zones at restaurants, hotels, and airports, among others.
The appeal comes on the occasion of ‘No Smoking Day’ with the idea to make the country 100 per cent smoke-free and to check the spread of COVID-19 infection. There is a growing evidence that smoking is a risk for COVID-19 infection, Pankaj Chaturvedi, Head Neck Cancer Surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital, said, adding that smoking worsens lung function and reduces immunity. He also said that smokers who test positive for coronavirus have more complications and greater risk of fatality.
“Smoking areas in hotels and restaurants and even airports should be abolished…most of these zones are rarely compliant as per the COTPA requirements and are actually putting the public at great health risk,”Chaturvedi said.
Exposure to passive-smoking, according to him, risks the lives of thousands of non-smokers. Nalini Satyanarayan, a passive smoking victim and health activist, agreed.
According to Binoy Mathew from Voluntary Health Association of India, designated smoking areas facilitate the spread of COVID-19 infection as non-smokers cannot socially distance or wear masks and are trapped in close proximity in a smoke-filled environment.
“Families prefer to stay in hotels which do not allow smoking. We are happy that the government is strengthening the COTPA provisions to make hospitality sector completely smoke free,” said Mohammad Imran from Hotel Awadh International. In 2020, the government started the COTPA Amendment process by introducing a bill. India has the second largest number of tobacco users (268 million or 28.6 per cent of all adults in the country) in the world. Nearly 27 per cent of all cancers in India are due to tobacco usage.
The total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rs 182,000 crore, which is nearly 1.8 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), he said.
Tobacco use in all forms, whether smoking or chewing, is associated with severe COVID-19 casualties as per advisories issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).