Only 19% of those living in India consume tobacco. That’s less than the US (24%), China (32%), Russia (49%) or Greece, the smokers’ capital of the world (52%). Still, in the second-most populous nation on Earth that small percentage translates to 250 million tobacco users.
Health Minister B.K. Prasad estimates in fact that 40% of all deaths in India are caused by tobacco use. He adds that “most (Indian) people are unaware of the harmful effects of smoking.”
So the Indian government had decided to intervene. This week the Health Ministry enacts a national ban on cigarette smoking in public places such as airports, restaurants, hotels and bus stops. Violators are docked $5, no trivial sum since the country’s annual per capita income is under $1,000.
The ban will be accompanied by pictorial warnings on tobacco products designed to cope with India’s low literacy rate.
The program has its skeptics. Indians revel in acts of mild civil disobedience such as ignoring traffic signals, spitting and even urinating in public despite longstanding ordinances against them. Many will view the ban as another opportunity to express themselves in a way they believe is harmless and within their rights.
It isn’t harmless. The government anticipates a what-me-worry response and has already announced it will increase the fine to $25 soon after the prohibition takes effect.