Why not ban manufacture of Cigarettes?

Religion, dictatorship and laws in democracies have had a role in persuading, punishing and penalising smokers, who not only endanger their own heath but also pose serious health hazards to non-smokers.

Religion, dictatorship and laws in democracies have had a role in persuading, punishing and penalising smokers, who not only endanger their own heath but also pose serious health hazards to non-smokers. Surprisingly, from available history, no religious head, dictator or government have ever thought of banning Cigarettes. The efforts of health minister Anbumani Ramadoss in inventing a penalty clause for employers if an employee was caught smoking on the premises could be traced to Pope Urban VII's 13-day papal reign, that included the world's first known public smoking ban (1590). The Pope had threatened to excommunicate anyone who "took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powder form through the nose". Ramadoss, however, does not intend to make chewing or sniffing tobacco an offence. In the 17th century, many European countries followed the papal advice and banned smoking in public places in busy cities. The Revolution of 1848, led by bourgeois elite, repealed the ban on public smoking. If Ramadoss followed the healthy papal advice, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya could cite the 1848 revolution as the personal inspiration not to fall in line with the ban on smoking in Writer's Building. Interestingly, the first modern nationwide tobacco ban was imposed by Nazi Party in its own offices, every German university, post offices and military hospitals. Adolf Hitler was the force behind setting up of Karl Astel's Institute of Tobacco Hazards Research in 1941. Nazis did not flinch while doing the gas chamber experiment on Jews but were concerned about the effect of smoking on the health of the general public. Before the 'no public smoking' stance gained currency in India, a petition filed by Congress leader Murli Deora in SC in 1999 set the trend by seeking strict enforcement of the ban on smoking in public places. Though then NDA government repeatedly skirted around the deadlines for filing of response to the PIL, then attorney general Soli J Sorabjee took a bold stand and supported a Bench comprising Justices M B Shah and R P Sethi to ban smoking in public places. The Bench so ordeRed on November 2, 2001. It recognised that lighting of Cigarettes in public places invariably infringed non-smokers' right to life, guaranteed as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. "Then, why should a non-smoker be afflicted by various diseases - including lung cancer or heart ailments - only because he is requiRed to go to public places? There is no reason to compel non-smokers to be helpless victims of air pollution," it had said. From 1975, when inscribing of statutory warning - 'cigarette smoking is injurious to health' - was made mandatory on each packet, India has come a long way, being on the verge of putting gory pictures on cigarette packs. But, why has the government not taken the drastic step of banning manufacture of Cigarettes as differentiated from a ban on tobacco, which has many other beneficial uses. The tobacco economics appears to be the prime reason dissuading governments from signing the death warrant for Cigarettes. The Rs 35,000 crore tobacco industry employs a whopping 36 lakh people and contributes 10% of India's total excise revenue, of which nearly 90% is contributed by Cigarettes. The government has negated the theory that economic considerations hold key to policy decisions by proposing to write off Rs 60,000 crores of farm loans. This was to bring happiness to lakhs of debt-ridden farmers and in the hope of a substantial agricultural growth. So, could we see a complete ban on Cigarettes in the near future?


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