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Puff in public, pay from today

New Delhi, April 30: Pause before you puff tomorrow, or you could be hauled to the police station and made to cough up a fine.

The anti-tobacco legislation passed by Parliament a year ago comes into effect across the country tomorrow. Chief secretaries of all states have been told by the health ministry in a letter to take steps to enforce the law.

With the coming into effect of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of advertisement and regulation of trade and commerce, production, supply and distribution) Act, 2003, public places would be out of bounds for smoking.

These include public conveyances, public offices, educational and health institutions, hospitals, auditoriums, amusement centres, restaurants, court buildings and libraries.

Owners and managers of a public place must prominently display on a board the statutory warning in an Indian language or pay up Rs 200.

“Open spaces” such as railway stations, bus stops and stadiums, too, are no-smoking zones, the law says.

“A conductor or a bus driver can take an offender to the police station and the person will then have to be produced before a magistrate,” a health ministry official said. “Similarly, school principals can take action against a smoker.” The law forbids sale of cigarettes to those under 18.

The railways today doubled the fine for smoking on its premises, including stations and trains, to Rs 200, which is compoundable. Cigarette sale at stations was banned a year ago.

From tomorrow, ticket examiners can book anyone caught smoking on a train. Railway police will help them nab the smokers. They will then be produced before a magistrate for a summary trial in keeping with the code of criminal procedure, 1973, a railway spokesperson said.

Zonal railways, production units and public sector undertakings under the railway ministry have been told to strictly enforce the ban, a release said.

The railways, however, has only a dozen prosecutions to show during the occasional drives it has conducted till now.

The implementation of the law is suspect and will depend on the efficacy of law-enforcing agencies.

“It should be enforced either by a police officer who is not below the rank of a sub-inspector or by an officer of the state drugs and food department,” the ministry official said.

The law also provides for a fine of Rs 1,000 or two years in jail for any company or person advertising tobacco products, including cigarettes, beedis, pipes and paan masala. A second conviction will entail a fine of Rs 5,000 and five years in jail.

Promotions of cigarettes and tobacco products, including direct and indirect ads in print and television, and sponsorship of events (such as Red and White bravery awards) are prohibited. The tobacco lobby can expect a setback of Rs 400 crore.

The law when enacted a year ago had not come up with a specific time for its enforcement. Several states, however, had enforced the ban of their own accord. Tomorrow, the others will join in.

Health ministry officials said they would hold regular meetings with state agencies to monitor implementation. The Centre emphasised that it might consider putting in place a central machinery if the states failed to enforce the law.

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