The much-touted act banning smoking and spitting in public places has been put on “hold”. Health department officials said there is little chance of the act being pushed through before next year.
Under pressure from the anti-tobacco lobby and a number of health organisations, the government had passed a bill in 2001, banning smoking and spitting in public places and at sites where non-smokers and minors may be affected. The bill also restricted sale and advertising of tobacco.
The bill became the West Bengal Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting and Prohibition of Health of Non-smoker and Minor Act, 2001, after the President gave his assent on March 12, 2003. Soon after gaining the go-ahead from Rashtrapati Bhavan, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra had announced that the government would issue a notification with regard to the new act “within a month”.
No rules have been framed and so there are no signs of the act coming into force. Mishra, however, denied that the government had taken its foot off the pedal under pressure from the tobacco lobby. “There is no question of bowing to any pressure regarding the ban on smoking in public places. While we must look into the employment of so many people in the tobacco industry, it can never be at the cost of public health,’’ the minister stressed.
As for the go-slow, Mishra said: “We have kept the act on hold after learning that the Centre is bringing in an act to ban smoking in public places. We thought it wise to wait as a central act on any matter must have uniformity with a similar act passed by a state government.”
Mishra went on to explain that while the “core issue” of both the central and the state acts would be to ban smoking in public places and prohibit it where non-smokers may be affected, the Bengal government has decided to add spitting to the list of don’ts.
“Without going through the provisions of the central bill, we cannot frame our own rules,’’ said Mishra, adding that the Centre was likely to table the anti-smoking proposal in the winter session of Parliament. This, said health department officials, would mean that the rules amended by the state government would not come into effect “before mid-2004’’.