Two months ago, the students of IIT Bombay were sent an email from the Public Relations Office (PRO) outlining the ban on tobacco products and the punishment that would be levied on those caught violating the ban. It mentioned the provisions under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (CoTPA) which gives IIT Bombay the right to enforce such regulations.
What is the CoTPA and what are the ramifications of its enactment apropos of the students and residents of IIT Bombay?
The CoTPA was legislated with the intention of protecting public health. Time and again smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products have been proven to be injurious to one’s physical well being. With a gamut of diseases from simple pulmonary infections to more severe forms of cancer having been linked to the habit of smoking, it was deemed expedient to prohibit consumption, commerce as well as advertisements of such tobacco vendibles.
Clearly stated in section 4 of the act is the prohibition of smoking in a public place which includes areas like an educational institute, libraries and public offices. Furthermore, outlined under section 6, is the prohibition of the sale of tobacco products within a 100 yards radius of an educational institute. It continues to include guidelines for educational institutes to adhere to with the aim to deter smoking malpractices in and around the campus.
Educational institutes are expected to comply with the rule by installing a specifically sized banner explicitly proscribing smoking at locations like at major entrances and elevators. They are instructed to inform all residents i.e. students, professors and visitors alike to comply with no smoking policy within and around the premises. Institute administration is also directed to assign a committee consisting of “Authorised Officers” who would have the duty to search for offenders and once caught, inflict the appropriate punishment. By virtue of their positions stated in the Gazette of India, these authorised officers could include members of the faculty, members of the security services on campus as well as local police officers.
As for the punishment, the law defines the maximum fine of 200 INR to be imposed on those found contravening these regulations which would have to be paid to the authorised officer in exchange for a receipt. The offence is outlined to be of a compoundable nature implying no need of a legal trial and that once the payment of fine is made, the violator is essentially acquitted of the charges and let free.
How far has IIT Bombay complied with CoTPA?
Having understood the gist of the CoTPA, it is only natural to investigate the compliance of IIT Bombay with such policies. With regards to the chronology of events, it appears bothersome that the act was passed in 2003 but the email mentioning such a ban to was sent out only recently (in 2018). Perhaps the email was motivated by the circular issued by the MHRD to all IIT’s back in September 2017, directing them to do so and not by the administration’s intention to continuously remind and inform the residents of the smoking ban. This is evident from the fact that the incumbent PRO did not issue a similar email during their entire tenure, when the CoTPA existed, but the circular directing them this issuance did not.
With regards to the installation of signage, the Main gate doesn’t yet have a banner nor do all the major lifts and staircases in the lecture hall complex. Even if they are installed they must be conspicuous enough to be noticed by passers-by. Furthermore, in terms of constituting a team of authorised officers, members of the administration are yet to convene for the second time and discuss how the legality of the CoTPA will be officially enforced in the campus (as confirmed by the PRO). At this point even the security service members are unaware of how this may unfold. Hence, the system of forming a group of functional authorised officers is seemingly yet to take shape. On an encouraging note however, there has been an instance where a cigarette vendor has been removed from in front of the main gate. Although, considering the grounds of jurisdiction, it appears to be the doing of Mumbai police rather than that of the security services employed on campus. The precedence of IIT Kanpur having already enforced and complied with the CoTPA, back in 2016, can surely give pointers to IIT Bombay’s administration.
As far as the stakeholders are involved in this scenario, the residents and visitors, too, are expected to comply with the regulations. The umbrella of residents would include everyone from students, be it national or international, to professors and other faculty members and non-teaching staff. Similarly, visitors to the campus even for a few hours in a day would be expected to comply with the rule and not smoke. For the other stakeholders like the authorised officers, they may be liable to pay a fine in cases where their dereliction of duty is reported. Hence, the act poses as much work on the administrative staff as it imposes smoking restrictions on the residents. It certainly demands as much from the residents as from the administration.
Is the CoTPA sufficient to curb smoking?
The world this act envisions, for educational institutes, is seemingly one of vigilantism – where a resident reports the offence committed by another resident to the authorities, where those with authority exact fines from those who are caught, where those with authority are themselves fined when they may fail to report on such offences. The law seems to miss out on any personal understanding of the behaviour of a smoker or of a person merely trying out smokes.
Perhaps this sort of a compassionate understanding is not expected to come out of a legal mandate nor do we believe it would do full justice of resolving the issue of improving public health by considering that understanding. What might help here is a passive intervention from the administration of IITB. Unfortunately however, that seems to be long way ahead as the administration has declined to answer any specific questions about the enforcement.
Besides simply mentioning the punishment for smoking in the campus, it would be more prudent to also direct smokers to the student wellness centre where they can get professional help to combat their addiction. Enforcing a mere rule is a short-sighted attempt from the administration’s end to deter smoking without addressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressing either the taboo of smoking culture that already exists or the diligence that is required to stop smoking and, thence, actually improve public health in the long run. The consequence of this taboo culture affects students through the notion of reverse psychology which compels them to pick up the habit of smoking even more once it is banned. Without opening new avenues for smokers trying to stop their addiction, solely punishing their habits would be a futile attempt to help those who need it the most.
While it is fair to believe that implementing the CoTPA on the campus is a starting step to limit such smoking malpractices, it is also necessary to recognise that it should not be the only step taken. Active Involvement of existing student help centres for the purpose of drug rehabilitation is a key element to consider when the objective is to improve the physical well being of the student populous. One can surely derive optimism from that fact that IITB is one of the few institutes in the country to have such services available for its students and that the participation of such help centres, in addition to the law, can positively help achieve the aim to improve public health.
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