By Reyaz, Anubhooti, Karishma

Prachi Dutt (name changed) was 10 years old when she tried smoking for the first time. Since then, ‘let me try it once’ has became a habit. Today, eleven years later, she cannot stop smoking even on her college campus, although the university has been declared a smoke- free zone.

Like Prachi, there are many others who openly flout this ban in various colleges and universities across Delhi. And they seem to have no qualms about it.

Rahul (name changed), a student of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) said, he is sure he would not be caught because he is certain authorities don’t care. “Everyone smokes openly here; even the staff and professors indulge in it. And no one says anything, neither the guards, nor the administration.”

Anand Kumar, a guard at the university concurs. “Students do smoke in the campus. But they hide the cigarette when they see us,” he said.

Apam Kharingpam, an Assistant Professor at the same university believes that smoking zones should be created at various places in the universities, just as in restaurants and airports. “The government earns a lot of money from chain smokers like me. So, I think it is hypocrisy on the part of the government to ban it in certain places and to sell it at others.”

Though the law is being openly defied by many, authorities seem to be sitting pretty after installing hoardings and banners everywhere. Professor Gurmeet Singh, the Proctor of Delhi University says, “We conduct regular classes and awareness campaigns to sensitise the students. More than going behind the students with a stick in our hand, we believe in educating them. We conducted a survey after we started the campaign. And the results show that 23 percent of the students have quit smoking after the campaign was started.”

But going by the number the people who smoke in the campuses, the ground realities seem very different. Monika Arora, Director of Hriday, a NGO working with students against smoking, questions the validity of the claim. “I don’t know how scientifically proven that survey is.”

She, however, agrees that the government and the administration are doing their best to spread awareness about the no-smoking campaign. “Change cannot be brought overnight. But going by the no-smoking hoardings and banners that have come up in the city, it appears that University administration and the government are putting in a sincere effort.”

A possible reason why the students are taking the ban lightly could be that the authorities have not been harsh while implementing it. Though the ban has been in place for quite some time now, there have been no strict actions as of yet in these universities.
Mukesh Ranjan, Assistant to Proctor of JMI says, “I am aware that the university is a smoke free zone. But I have got no official instruction yet on as to how to go about implementing the ban.”

Gurmeet Singh says, “A student can be fined Rs.200 if caught smoking in the campus. But there have been no fines as of yet because we do not want it to be a punitive effort. We want the students to understand for themselves.”

Whether the students understand or not, the fact remains that personal choices of a few are putting the health of thousands at risk. And the open defiance of the law by the educated masses goes on to prove that it is high time that stricter measures are taken so that bans like these are effectively implemented.

Quick facts
o India is the second largest producer of tobacco in the world.
o 25 crore population in India are regular tobacco users.
o Tobacco worth Rs 24,000 corers is sold annually.
o The government has to spend Rs 27,000 corers annually on free health services to offset the harm caused by it
o Every 30 seconds, one person in India dies of diseases related to tobacco or gutkha.
o Every two seconds, 1 Indian child tries tobacco for the first time.
o 4 million children below the age of 15 years use tobacco regularly.

Sources: Data compiled from the Ministry of Health and Women Welfare, Government of India, American Cancer Society, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), The World Health Survey, 2003.