India’s billion plus population means everything we do or encounter will automatically find its way into the record books. And that’s what has happened with the nonsensical Ramadossian anti-smoking crusade – its now the world’s biggest public smoking ban. Comments on this Churumuri poll show what most people feel about it. There are a few voices of sanity (including my extremely cynical one), but they are, well, few.

The Pioneer editor Chandan Mitra, the one who demanded that Swaminathan Aiyar, Vir Sanghvi and others who wrote about the secession of Kashmir be tried for treason, writes against the smoking ban

Besides jihadi terror, another kind of terror has just been let loose on urban India. Both the police and vigilante squads are on the prowl to satiate the megalomania of the Union Health Minister. I can’t smoke in my office premises, not even on the terrace or balcony leave alone a secluded private chamber. I can’t go to a bar to enjoy a couple of drinks with friends, nor can I light up in a restaurant while I wait for food to be served or after a satisfying meal. It is still not clear whether hotels will be allowed to earmark some smoking rooms, but I am certain that Adolf Hitler’s worthy Indian follower will think of some devious plan to prosecute hotels if they do.

I am not comparing Ramadoss to Hitler in jest. Unlike his peers in an age where smoking was the norm rather than the exception (Allied leaders Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Josef Stalin were all smokers), the German dictator pathologically despised the habit. Although he did not go quite so far as Ramadoss, the Nazis banned smoking at party meetings and told members to aggressively “persuade” smokers to abandon the addiction. A massive publicity blitz was launched by the Nazi Government to make people aware of the evils of smoking. How miserably Hitler failed in his mission is apparent from the fact that Germany still has rather liberal anti-smoking laws. Earlier this year, the State of Bavaria scrapped the regulation prohibiting smoking in bars and public places, citing both economic and practical reasons.

Ramadoss is a megalomaniac – no question about it; he is the nanny paternalists have always dreamed about. And after letting the law loose on smokers, he now wants to place a ban on tobacco products, but after providing “alternative employment” to the thousands of tobacco farmers. So till this unachievable goal is met, the sin taxes will keep on piling and farmers can grow the crop that “kills”. Nothing contradictory about the whole thing, right? If a ban is indeed imposed, however, the trade will go underground, prices will rise, the quality will go down, and people will be harassed just like marijuana and opium users are (BJP leader Jaswant Singh had to face the heat after being charged under the dangerous Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act).

As it is, with the present smoking ban, some cops might find it more lucrative to slap challans (or not slap them rather) on smokers instead of tackling other crimes. To their credit, some police departments have complained about having better things to do than babysitting smokers – we don’t want a repeat of the Maharashtra fiasco where RR Patil sent his cops out to grab bar girls, and a few days later bombs went off in local trains around Mumbai. Stretching things too far I accept, but shouldn’t the police concentrate on tackling violent crimes instead of harassing couples fondling each other, or swindling college kids with “pictures” on their mobile phones?

There could have been a very simple answer to the whole mess – privatize all public property. So owners will set the rules on what is and what is not permissible on their premises. Business men who smoke can even decide against hiring non-smoking crusaders – equal opportunity employer status be damned! The only problem? The Indian Government does not respect private property – how else would you explain restaurants, pubs, bars, private offices etc being termed as “public space” or “public” whatever? And Sauvik Chakraverti puts his finger on this very problem.

Update: Fixed minor errors.

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  • Pramod Biligiri  On October 7, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Hardly a day passes by when I don’t curse our Health Minister :|

    I wish they would play up the passive smoking angle instead of banning it because it’s bad for health or something.

    Anyway, I agree with you. He’s a definite megalomaniac. And their priorities are thoroughly messed up.

  • Vamsee  On October 9, 2008 at 4:16 am

    Well, I had the man in my criticism-sights too, but I was taken aback to see a recent article in The Hindu – he wants the govt. to repeal a law that makes ‘unnatural sex’ (read gay sex) illegal, and prevents them from creating a proper medical cover for homosexuals, who apparently have the highest incidence of HIV+. I softened a bit after reading that. Just goes to say we can reason in the most unlikely places :)

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 9, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Ramadoss and reason? The only reason he’s in favor of scrapping IPC S377 is HIV-AIDS – he is not interested in gay rights (or any other rights, for that matter) as such. If he were, the smoking ban would not have happened.

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