Necessity to declare Restaurants and Public Transport 100pc Smoke-Free Areas

Publish: 9:53 PM, February 25, 2021 | Update: 9:53:PM, February 25, 2021

Md Shariful Islam
I have no idea whether Rabindronath Tagore used to smoke or not! However, I still do not understand why he said in his song ‘Ami Jene Sune Bish Koresi Pan’ (in English ‘I got poisoned knowingly’). Because we all know, smoking is like taking poison. And those who smoke take this poison knowingly. Many of us have been taking this poison day after day. On the other hand, you and I are all unknowingly taking this poison on a regular basis. Outside, on the streets, in the markets, we are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke. The number of people in the country who do not smoke but are indirectly victims of smoking is about 40 million. This information was obtained from a survey called Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Bangladesh 2017. It is sad but true that this number of indirect smokers is much higher than the number of direct smokers. Even when using public transport, more than 20 million people suffer from the effects of secondhand smoke. On the other hand, 8 million people are victims of secondhand smoke in their own workplaces. According to another source, smoking and tobacco-related diseases cause premature death of about 161,000 people in the country every year (Tobacco Atlas 2020).

Needless to say, smoking is deadly to health. Even then, when we go out, we see images of smoking everywhere. This means that there is not enough awareness among the people about this. With a view to controlling tobacco and smoking, the Government of Bangladesh has enacted the ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Uses (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013’ and regulations in 2015. The law states that no person can smoke in a public place. The law also states that anyone who smokes in a public place will be punished. Although the law says so, we do not see much in the way of strict control of smoking. If the law was strictly enforced, we would not have to see the image of smoking like this everywhere.

Smoking is prohibited in public places and public transport in accordance with laws and regulations. In other words, these areas have been declared as smoke-free areas. On the other hand, there is a provision to have ‘designated smoking areas or smoking zones’ in these non-smoking areas. Which means, though these public places are said to be smoke-free, these are not 100% smoke-free legally. On the other hand, the issue is inconsistent with the concept of a ‘smoke-free zone’. It is also a weak point of the law. Because no matter how much smoking is controlled, the people around become victims of secondhand smoke in one way or another. It is widely recognized through decades of research that allowing ‘designated smoking areas (DSAs)’ not provide smoke-free areas for other members of the public or workers in the same building. Smoke particles inevitably enter common areas irrespective of the ventilation or restrictions on access.

Another thing to note is that even though there is a provision to have a ‘designated smoking area’ in the workplace or public place, its proper implementation is not very noticeable. What we see especially in hotels or restaurants, ‘designated smoking area’ is not that much effective. In the name of smoking zone, there is a lot of smoking in the open space.

On the other hand, even though there is a designated place for smoking in trains, launches or public transport with multiple compartments, it is not considered as such. There is no such thing in non-mechanical public transport. When this is the overall picture, the ‘smoke-free area’ is just a matter of jokes.

For all these reasons, non-smokers are not immune to the negative effects of smoking. They suffer from the effects of secondhand smoke. Studies have shown that the effects of secondhand smoke increase the risk of heart disease in non-smokers by up to 75%. We are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke in restaurants and on public transport. Because all kinds of people have free movement in public places like public transport and restaurants. In this context, special mention should be made of children and pregnant women. Because of the effects of secondhand smoke, children are exposed to serious health risks and pregnant women suffer from a variety of health problems, including the birth of a handicapped child.

We need to get rid of this horrible situation of secondhand smoke in public places like public transport and restaurants. Otherwise, public health will face serious threats. The crisis caused by the harm of smoking will not be good for the economy and the environment as well. Strict enforcement of the law is equally important as awareness at all levels is needed to get rid of the deadly effects of smoking. Not only if the law is strictly enforced. We also have to take into account the weak points of the law. Necessary steps have to be taken to amend the law to cut the weakness. One of the weak points of the law is the provision of ‘designated smoking areas’ in the non-smoking areas.

In this situation, it is time to declare all public places, including public transport and restaurants, as 100% smoke-free areas. Therefore, in order to make public transport and restaurants smoke-free, it would not be appropriate to have any kind of ‘designated smoking area’ in these places. The law should be amended to remove designated smoking areas in public transport and restaurants.

The Writer is Project Coordinator, Tobacco Control Project, Dhaka Ahsania Mission