Where there's smoke...
THERE IS fire these days in the efforts of the Tamil Nadu police to bring persons found violating the ``No Smoking'' law to book. Woe betide the unwary yokel who lights up and draws luxuriantly on a cigarette for, a hefty fine of Rs. 500 would be imposed on him, especially after the recent Supreme Court ban on smoking. Millions of smokers are wary now about daring to puff away in public. "But what about those dreadful buses, lorries and water tankers that cause more pollution than cigarette smokers? If the police concentrated on curbing vehicle emissions that alone would make Chennai a better place to live in,'' feels Sharda Giridhar. Venkatesh Giridhar, her husband chimes in, ``Though I quit smoking a few years ago, I would resent the policing of my individual right even if it is just to enjoy a relaxed smoke."
To many cigarette smokers, however, the ban order has come as a blow. Ramesh Srinivasan, for instance, works all day in front of a computer at the Tidel Park. As smoking at work is not allowed, he waits for the twice-a-day, 15-minute coffee break when he can unwind over a snack, coffee and, of course, a cigarette. But, now, even the area outside the Tidel Park premises is a ``public area" which means that smoking is strictly out of bounds.
And what about those who dare not smoke at home for fear of incurring the displeasure and at times even the wrath of other family members? ``Where do we smoke? Offices are smoke-free these days, it's taboo at home and if we are not allowed to use a street corner for the purpose where do we go?" asks Saravanan (23), also a Tidel Park employee. He misses a cigarette, especially when he is on the night shift and is desperate to clear his mind of the cobwebs of sleep. But a huge anti-smoking lobby would only brush Saravanan's woes aside. However, he is not averse to the ban on smoking during air travel. Quite understandably, safety is the priority, he says.
The television channels flashed telling images of macho men puffing away near petty shops only to be hauled away by the law enforcers. While some housewives enjoyed the spectacle there were others who began to get anxious. Sarah Mathew is apprehensive.
"What if my husband is arrested for smoking at Central Station or at any other public place? He has been a compulsive smoker now for 20 years. ``Will the police arrest him or let him off with a fine,'' she asks. She sighs and hopes that he will give up smoking now that none other than the Supreme Court has banned it.
"It's not funny if my husband is fined Rs.500 for smoking in public. The family budget is already strained after the cuts in his salary,'' says Sunita Shivadas in worried tones, and adds that hopefully a bitter experience will make her husband wiser.
Some smokers seem unfazed by the ordinance. Madhavan Kutty, declares with an air of bravado, ``I have years of experience in trying to evade hawk-eyed elders and teachers who give smokers short shrift. I am sure that I can spot a constable a mile away! Besides, it's not as if I would have to take the breathaliser test.'' Here , it remains to be seen whether he will get the better of the law enforcers or vice versa.
Viswanathan, a busy lawyer, admits that all the heat that this haze has generated stumps him. He feels that all public places should have areas earmarked for smokers and the ban should be enforced, but gradually.
Perhaps the worst affected by the ban is the tobacco industry. The `big daddy' among them all saw the writing on the wall a long while ago and decided wisely to diversify into the hospitality industry.
While the fire against smoking gains heat one cannot help but wonder about Sir Winston Churchill's plight if he were to live in a country where smoking was banned by law. For, he always claimed that it was the endless supply of cigars and tea that carried him through the war.
And, it is no secret that he sourced those famous cigars from Trichinopoly. The cigars would be despatched on their long voyage by sea to England, immersed in a rich native brandy!
M. SRINATH NARAYAN
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