It's important laws are stricter and penalties severe on public smoking and spitting

My colleague was all worked up when she walked into our office recently. One look at her and we knew the reason for her agitation — someone from a moving bus had spit on her. This is a common phenomenon in our country, and makes one wonder if people have learnt their lessons in hygiene. Even the steel railings in buses and trains are not spared, let alone the bus and auto stands, and pavements.

Another issue is smoking — recently, I saw a notice board in a petty shop that read ‘smoking here is a punishable offence'. Placed directly below was the light for lighting the cigarette!

The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting Act, 2002 is a proactive legislation enacted by the State, in a bid to control tobacco usage in public places. The law clearly defines what constitutes smoking, chewing, inhaling and spitting of tobacco, and also describes public places and who has the authority to enforce the law in such places. It also bans selling of tobacco products around areas such as schools, colleges, and hospitals.

Penalty for violations are also spelt out. It is interesting to know that Tamil Nadu stands first in collecting fine from violators and that a huge sum is collected as fine for using tobacco products in public places.

However, because of the large population and the wide prevalence of these practices, the enforcement of this law proves to be extremely difficult. Moreover, the Act in itself has a few shortcomings. For instance, the Act prohibits smoking and spitting in places of public work or use (list of places specified), but leaves out places such as streets and playgrounds. This makes it easier for smokers to get a way around the law. Most of all, the penalties spelt out under the Act are very minimal. Also, spitting, in general, should be considered a severe offence, as this is unhygienic and could spread infection. Spittoons could be provided to avoid open spitting and people could be educated on carrying spit bags.

Spitting, littering and smoking in undesignated areas are offences in Singapore, and anybody caught doing it ends up paying a huge fine and repeated offenders end up in jail. Thus, the penalties should be such that violators would feel the pinch and think twice before committing the offence again. Besides, complaint numbers should be displayed at prominent places so that the public can easily report.

Above all, people should realise their responsibility towards the environment, and initiate steps to lead a hygienic life.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)

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