Two years after the Union Health Ministry declared a ban on smoking in public places, the city has maintained the momentum. Several non-governmental organisations and the State government have played a pivotal role in taking home the message about the ills of using tobacco.

According to State Tobacco Control Officer in-charge R. Narayanaswamy, there has been a visible change. The sale of all forms of tobacco has fallen by 40 per cent in Villupuram and Coimbatore districts. There is also a proposal to declare Tamil Nadu a ‘smoke-free' State.

“So far 2,200 educational institutions in the State have been declared no smoking area. Since October 2008, when the ban on smoking in public places was enforced, the government has collected around Rs.22 lakh as fine from over 19,000 violators across the State,” he says.

SmokeFree Chennai, an NGO, which has identified 314 smoke-free jurisdictions, including marriage and cinema halls in the city has not found much success with tea stalls and bars.

“Two TASMAC shops – one in K.K. Nagar and another in R.K. Mutt Road do not allow customers to smoke,” says S. Angelis, training director, SmokeFree Chennai.

There are indications that in June the State government might declare Coimbatore and Villupuram districts smoke-free after a visit from the WHO officials, says S. Cyril Alexander, executive director of the Chennai-based Mary Anne Charity Trust, which has been conducting opinion polls and monitoring complaints and awareness levels in the city and the suburbs about the Control of Tobacco Products Act.

Compliance to the COTPA is over 80 per cent in Coimbatore and Villupuram, Mr. Alexander says. MACT has commissioned a survey of Chennai and the results would be out within a week. However, “more action from the government is needed” he adds.

For instance, organisations may ban smoking on their premises but do not display the name and designation of the official to whom complaints must be forwarded. Also, more than half the shops do not have signage boards and those that do are not to the COTPA specifications.

In schools and colleges, the NCC and NSS have helped spread the message. School Task Force on Tobacco Control monitor sale of tobacco products near the Corporation schools. The Central Board of Secondary Education is bringing a change in its syllabus to incorporate awareness messages.

Since it rests with the individuals to understand the effect tobacco has on them personally, self-help groups and women must also participate, says Prasanna Kannan, Senior State Consultant, Tobacco Free Initiative, WHO.

In the run up to World No Tobacco Day on May 31 NGOs have planned several events. The Cancer Institute, Adyar, would hold a workshop for traders this week to sensitise them to complying with the COTPA rules. The State government, under the aegis of the WHO, would organise a rally on that day and traders have proposed not to sell tobacco products for a day.

By intensifying the effort to educate the youth, there is hope that the awareness would prevent them from becoming addicted to tobacco, the activists say.

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