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Plea for smoke-free booths

Guwahati, April 2: The Voluntary Health Association of Assam has urged the Election Commission to declare polling booths in the state as “no-smoking zones”, on the lines of Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir.

Yesterday, the association’s executive secretary, Ruchira Neog, led a team that met Assam’s chief electoral officer Vijayendra and requested him to issue an order to prohibit smoking at all polling booths during the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The association is the Assam chapter of the Voluntary Health Association of India, which is a leading non-profit organisation working in the field of public health.

According to the Assam chapter, the ban will ensure smoke-free general elections in the state and also educate lakhs of electors about the ill effects of tobacco.

The chief electoral officer said he had received a request from the association in this regard and was looking into the matter.

The association, in a statement issued today, said two states — Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar — have already declared all polling stations as no-smoking zones and the chief electoral officers in the two states have issued instructions to all district electoral officers-cum-district magistrates to ensure prohibition of smoking at booths.

The district electoral officers have also been asked to display signs outside the polling booths informing voters about the booths being no-smoking zones.

In Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir, the ban has been enforced under Section 4 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, which calls for imposition of a fine of Rs 200 for violating the provisions.

“Issuance of such a guideline or order by the chief electoral officer, Assam, would not only help bring in awareness against smoking in public but also protect people from the menace of second-hand smoke, a major cause of pulmonary diseases,” the association’s executive secretary said.

“Assam’s chief electoral officer has told us that he will take a decision after discussing the matter with the Election Commission,” she said.

She said she was optimistic that the chief electoral officer would do something positive, keeping in mind the issue of public health and the greater interest of society.

“It is alarming to note that Assam has one of the highest incidence rates of cancer related to tobacco use in the country,” Neog said.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey carried out in 2010, 52.6 per cent males and 25.3 per cent females in Assam use tobacco in some form or the other. In urban areas, 40.6 per cent of the population uses tobacco, whereas this number is 39.1 per cent in rural areas, way above the national rate, she said.


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