A designated smoking area for MPs inside Parliament has raised the hackles of anti-tobacco activists. A health institute involved in fighting against tobacco has written to the Lok Sabha Speaker saying the definition of a public place as laid down in the anti-tobacco Act would include Parliament, hence the decision to allow MPs to smoke violates the law.
“As per Section 4 of the Act smoking in all public places is prohibited since October 2008,” says the letter to Sumitra Mahajan, referring to the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act 2003. “The definition of ‘public places’ provided under section 3(1) of the Act read along with Rule 2(d) of the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules 2008 (2008 rules), includes workplaces as well, thus Parliament House comes under the purview of public places under the Act.”
A group of MPs including Sougata Roy (Trinamool), Kiren Rijiju (BJP) and Sitaram Yechury (CPM) had reportedly been requesting the Speaker for some time for a designated smoking area inside Parliament. Their wish was granted recently when the waiting lounge in the Central Hall was informally designated the MPs’ smoking area.
Incidentally, all of Parliament including its grounds is a non-smoking zone though an exception has been made for MPs. North Block, which houses the home and finance ministries, too has a designated smoking area. “It is ironical that a law passed by Parliament that is the law of the land now is violated by Parliament itself,” said Dr P C Gupta, visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of Healis Sekhsaria Institute, which has taken the matter up with Mahajan.
“This sets a very bad precedent for the entire country. If Parliament does not respect its own laws, who will? The law is very clear about who can have designated smoking areas and all public places are to be smoke-free and Parliament by any standard is a public place,” said Gupta, who is also an adjunct professor, at department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.
He added that this is purely a legal matter as it involved violation of a law by the very people who made it. According to the law, only hotels with 30 or more rooms or restaurants with a seating capacity of 30 or more and airports can have smoking areas.
Meanwhile, a contempt petition has been filed in Rajasthan High Court against the Ministry of Health for not implementing last year’s order for larger pictorial warnings on tobacco pack after the high court in June asked the ministry to implement it. The contempt petition will be heard on August 17.
The court was responding to a public interest litigation, when it had ordered the central and the state governments to immediately implement the 2014 rules under the anti-tobacco law that mandated increase of pictorial warnings on tobacco packets to 85 per cent of the principal display area. The implementation of those rules was kept in abeyance through a corrigendum by the ministry on March 26 this year — five days before they were to have come into effect on April 1 — at the interim recommendation of a committee of subordinate legislation.