The health effects of second-hand smoking is one of the fiercely debated topics by policy makers and lobbyists in all countries. This debate has come to the fore again, at least in the Indian media and blogosphere, following the ban on smoking in public places.

A problem that I face almost everyday: when I get out of the subway and run to my office every morning -- when I'm panting and breathing heavily -- the sidewalk is hogged by a series of smokers. I usually try to get ahead of the smoker right in front of me only to find there's more. I don't know if going through this cycle everyday for a few years is going to give me lung cancer, what I do know is that it gives me a bad headache and nausea immediately.

Smoking in bars, restaurants and other such 'public places' has been banned for a long time in Canada. What's interesting, though, is that these are places that I can actually avoid. It's the 'public space' that I'm more concerned about. Especially busy sidewalks where one out of five is always smoking, making it virtually impossible to escape it. That gets us to the question on infringement of others' rights. If I called for a smoking ban on roads and parks, am I infringing on the smokers' rights to pleasure themselves? or is it the other way round? Whose rights is superior here?

Personally, this issue is a little too complex for me to take a stance. Because, I'm a proponent of the "right" to self-inflicted harm -- through drugs, adventure sports or masochistic outbursts -- as long as it doesn't drag others into it. But it's a very problematic stance in that people who "care" about you are affected invariably. It's even more problematic in countries like Canada where the State guarantees comprehensive health care to all its citizens. If I jumped from a building trying to kill myself and ended up alive with a broken spine, the State will not only prosecute me for attempted suicide, it will also spend public money to get my back straightened. (India's health care system may not be as good, but legally they are obliged to do the same.)

Cigarette is one of the heavily taxed commodities in Canada. The rationale behind it, in my opinion, is similar to auto insurance. A driver who is statistically more probable to get into an accident pays more premium. The same logic is applied in self selected health insurances: a person more prone to physical ailments -- generally based on his/her medical history and habits -- would be charged more premium. But in universal health care systems taxing the product directly is the only way to balance out, at least in principle, the extra burden caused by the high risk population. However, I'm not sure if kitchen knives and roofing equipment are taxed as much.

What's ironic in all of this is the opinions voiced by some self proclaimed anarchists. The idea of individual right stems only from the acceptance of a statehood and its legal system. Any system that is completely anarchic will still go through prohibition, compensation, risk and consensus before a practice is established as 'acceptable'. A characteristic shared by most States. So if the State deems that my right to not have a headache is superior to others' right to give me one, there is little to argue over it (unless it's with the State itself). Of course, the anarchists do not have any other option because they exist, in most cases, within a State. For they cannot escape statehood and still proclaim the space that gives them the "right" to be anarchic.

So all the talk about rights boils down to one perspective: I think smoking should be banned wherever I go. And if I were a smoker, I would probably say the opposite.


anudivya said...

You are such a good writer Suresh, I really admire the clarity with which you are able to put forth your thoughts... I agree with most of what you said, and I for one would have never been able to put them so eloquently!
And yeah, more power to passive smokers!

Ganga said...

Then there's no solution per se.

One of my suggestions penned down in my research paper was to install public smoking booths just like public toilets prohibit people from urinating/defecating in the open.

How far public toilets have worked in India is another debate, but do you think we could actually create a practical solution?

Most of the police guys did confess about the personal-right infringment and how that sometimes was an obstacle.
The problem is intricated, sometimes we have the inspectors themselves smokers or the former commissioner telling me that the police have more important crimes to take care of.

The police as an agent of the state are in a way punch bags between law-makers and the government. India decides to abide with an international law and save its face, and the state grapples with its realities in an un-hyped manner.

Anonymous said...

Hi Suresh -

As usual a random and totally unrelated post.

While talking about passive smokers, I'm not sure why you had to talk about self proclaimed anarchists.

Anyways, the place I work, I rarely encounter smoke fumes...

On a totally different note:

Are you looking at the stance that TN politicians are taking for tamil eelam. Also did you see the interview of Seeman at (this is a new one not the one with Gnani). I think he is hell bent on getting TN or at least tamils to support eelam (indirectly tigers)...

Suresh said...

Anu - "neenga enna romba pugalreenga" :p, thanks.
Btw, I'll post a new recipe sometime this week.

Ganga - Solution?

Murali - The argument about smoking and a legislation prohibiting (or permitting) it invariably centers 'individual rights'. It then expands to the notion of a State, its control over its subjects and so forth. Anarchy automatically becomes a topic of discussion soon after that. Try to read that book I had linked to if you get a chance.

About Seeman: Yeah, quite coincidentally, I saw the interview a day before I made this post. His views are mostly sensible within a Tamil nationalist's point of view. India's purported support to GoSL is akin to US funding the Palestinian freedom struggle (using the American Jews' tax money).
But other than that I have a problem with everything he seems to represent, although I agree with some of this opinions (vis-à-vis the apolitical nature of Tamils in TN etc.). I don't think Seeman is going to have any effect on the Tamil Eelam issue.
I was surprised that nobody raised the caste question to him. If any of the callers had read Shoba Sakthi's article on Thambi, Seeman would have been ripped apart. Here's the English version of it:
Tamil version:

A quote from the artcile:
For the crime of falling in love with a revolutionary, she has to swallow abuses like, 'Loosu,' 'Imsai' and 'Pei.' Finally when Seeman's brother accepts her love, she falls at his feet. Seeman has characterized the heroine's role on male domination thought process. One thing has to be admitted openly. Considering what people like K Balachander representing the Brahminical backward culture has portrayed the female domination half heartedly in films such as 'Aval Oru Thodarkadhai,' 'Avargal,' 'Manadhil Urudhi Vendum,' 'Achchamillai Achchamillai' and 'Agnisakshi,' the inheritors to Periyar legacy could not even match that and in the name of Tamil culture, they are going back to the culture of falling at the feet.
-end quote-

Mannaru said...

hi suresh

could you elaborate on what you said about BR ?


Logi-call said...

Relevant post on smoking ban in India. Read my one on the same topic but with a differnt angle at

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