When Rajarathinam visited the Head Post Office on Anna Salai in April to deposit money in his Senior Citizens Savings Account, he was asked to stub out his cigarette before entering the premises.

“The security personnel told me that smoking is banned inside the office. I've been visiting the post office for almost seven years but it was never the case earlier,” says the 73-year-old retired school headmaster, who was at the post office to withdraw the month's pension.

White boards with bright red signage reading ‘Tobacco-free office' hang noticeably at the entrances of the many government offices. Joining the city in the ‘Smoke-free Chennai project,' the government offices, on their part, are bringing down the smoke levels on their premises by declaring their places smoke-free.

“Almost all government offices have consented to place such boards, and some such as Home Guards are very effective in banning it completely in their places,” says Prasanna Kannan, Senior State Consultant, Tobacco Free Initiative, World Health Organization. Many private offices and industries have also joined hands in this initiative, she says. Restaurants, particularly, have been proactive in discouraging smokers inside their buildings. Apart from carrying sign boards, the hotel industry has been hosting awareness seminars and workshops.

The Police Commissioner's office in Egmore, one among the first offices to place the signage at its entrance, has successfully kept the place smoke-free. “There has been perceptible difference on the premises. People tell me that the public has refrained from smoking after the sign board was fixed. It is a healthy trend and we are hoping to see more such changes across the city,” said Commissioner of Police T. Rajendran. According to the Tobacco Free Initiative officials, information technology companies have also come forward to make their campuses smoke-free and conduct awareness workshops for their employees. “If that initiative is in place, the change would be even more noticeable,” says Ms. Kannan.

Though it is a frustrating rule for smokers such as Rajarathinam, non-smokers are delighted with the growing attitude change. “It is entirely in the hands of the individual to know about the smoking hazards and take efforts to quit. Installing sign boards are first step towards sensitising people. We need stringent rules to keep smoking at bay,” says M. Palanisamy, Assistant Post Master General in the office of the Chief Postmaster General, Tamilnadu Circle.

K. Arumugam, an asthmatic, says focus should be on the advocacy front to create greater awareness. “It is good that offices are being declared smoke-free. But roads and other public places are still dotted with smokers. Walking past a thick cloud of smoke aggravates my wheezing trouble. Why do I have to pay for others' habit?”

Keywords: smoking ban

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