The government may have banned the use of tobacco on hospital premises from June 1, but the message has clearly not reached the Howrah General Hospital authorities. Or maybe, it’s just gone up in smoke.
The largest government hospital in the area houses at least five shops selling cigarettes, bidis, chewing tobacco and the like.
Hospital staff members and visitors are found smoking openly, with a stray “no smoking” sign bearing mute witness.
Superintendent of the hospital Harekrishna Chanda said all staff members have been informed about the smoking ban and the shops have been asked to move out.
“They are all illegally occupying the spaces and have built temporary sheds to run their business. I have repeatedly asked them to move out but they have not done so till date. But they are not selling tobacco,” he claimed.
If you walk up to one of these shops — with no cigarette packs or guthka pouches on display — and ask for precisely these tobacco products, chances are you will not come away empty-handed. The cigarette or gutkha is produced promptly, on request, from behind the smokescreen.
Shops selling tobacco also abound just outside the hospital premises. A hospital employee is know to own such a shop on the pavement bang in front of the office of the chief medical officer (health).
The shopkeepers, meanwhile, claim they have not been intimated about the no-tobacco government directive. The hospital staff, too, claim they are not aware of the new rule. One, however, shot back: “Why should I abide by the rules when everyone else is doing exactly what they want'”
Superintendent Chanda, however, remain bullish about the ban: “I have taken certain measures to stop people from smoking in the wards.”
Asked why there were no signboards saying “no smoking” in the wards, he said it was not considered necessary, as no one should be smoking there in the first place.
“Till now, I have asked people to stop the use of tobacco on the hospital premises through word of mouth, but if I see no improvement I will lodge a complaint with the police against the defaulters,” warned Chanda.