Friday, July 20, 2007

India's anti-smoking nazi Health Minister

Our dear Health Minister, Dr. Ramadoss has 2 pet obsessions, one being to prevent tobacco from being displayed anywhere, the other being to prevent Dr. Venugopal to be there in AIIMS. The courts and now the cabinet have blocked the Health Minister from taking immediate action against Dr. Venugopal. No matter, he can still proceed on his inspired mission against tobacco.
Now, to make matters clear, I don't smoke, and I believe that cigarette smoking is harmful. The better objective would be to try and make the consumption of tobacco illegal, but that would harm political interests because of the supposed large number of people involved in tobacco cultivation (although the same argument could be be used if you had free-for-all opium cultivation; a large number of people would get involved in opium cultivation and you would not be able to ban it).
And of course, the Government is even less inclined to get proactive in the matter of beedis, which are more harmful than cigarettes.
However, having made my stand clear, I am even more inclined to also believe in the strength of privacy, and a man's/women's home being their castle; subject to no criminal activities taking place, a person can do what they want in their house. And so it seems ridiculous as to how easily a person inspired by the power of righteousness can take whatever action they want and not care about rights of other people:

Forget bars and restaurants, even smoking at home in the presence of a domestic help might invite action from the government. "We are going to take stringent measures against smoking in public places like hotels, bars and restaurants... in fact any place where there are employees," Ramadoss said, speaking at a ceremony here where he was awarded the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General's Special Award for Tobacco Control for the year 2007.
"Even at home, if you smoke and there is a maid present, action can be taken against you," he said. "If you have to smoke, then go to the roads."

This is crazy. To mandate more and more laws that control us, especially what we can do in our house crosses the line. And there is no end to what can happen if you use this law. Suppose you have a party in your house, you will then have to declare in the invitations whether the house is a smoking zone on non-smoking zone, so that you don't then get sued by some guest for the crime of second-hand smoking.
And following from what the minister said, suppose you smoked before the maid came; now smoke remains in the place of smoking for some time; so what would the law say about how often you should smoke before the maid or some other employee comes (maybe you can smoke 30 minutes before the maid comes, but if the weather is cold (<15 degrees) and there is no air circulation (less than 1 m/s) and your windows are not open for more than 5 cm, then you could be classified as still having second hand smoke in your house and hence the maid can get you to spend a night in jail.
This is written somewhat with a jocular nature, and smoking is a very serious issue. People die in large numbers, some in incredible pain due to cancer caused by long-term smoking or by direct tobacco consumption. However, the remedy needs to make sense. It reminds of Sanjay Gandhi's efforts to try to cut down population growth by trying forceful sterilization (a direct application of force that is not appropriate to achieve the direct results).
Western countries are more famous for anti-smoking measures, to the extent that the advocates are called anti-smoking nazis or health nazis, but even they stop at the entrance to a person's home. And of course, I never could understand why we create laws that are bound to fail (a trip in many trains and other means of public transport, especially in semi-urban areas could hell you understand as to how such laws are never followed).
Of course, this is not the first attempt. The Minister earlier tried to get all forms of smoking banned in films and TV, and even though there are chances of influencing youth with images of stars smoking; given the cinematic expressions and involved, and the need to show smoking when it happens normally in society, it is far better to have a voluntary restraint.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:45 PM