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India Bans Smoking in Many Public Places

India has become the latest country to ban smoking in most public places, starting Thursday. From New Delhi, Anjana Pasricha reports on the government's efforts to stub out smoking, which kills an estimated one million people in the country, every year.

Prakash sells cigarettes at a popular roadside stall, near a movie theater and a high school in Delhi. He is confident the ban on smoking in public places will not impact his sales.

He says, if authorities are strict, his sales might plummet. However, he feels most people are neither scared nor bothered about the new rules.

Health ministry officials think otherwise. They are optimistic that the ban will help cut down smoking among the country's estimated 250 million tobacco users. Most of them are men.

An earlier drive against smoking in public made little impact. The new ban, which came into effect Thursday, is more sweeping. The places where lighting up is prohibited include hotels, restaurants, schools, pubs, offices, night clubs, hospitals, airports and bus stops.

The government has directed these establishments to appoint anti-smoking officers who will be accountable, if people smoke on their premises. Those caught violating the ban can be fined up to five dollars.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss says smoking curbs are needed in a country where more than half the population is under 30.

"Although it is fantastic to be in a youthful country, we need to protect this very valuable resource from the harmful effects of tobacco," Ramadoss said.

However, most people feel that enforcing the ban may not be easy in a country where many rules are routinely violated.

A middle-aged smoker puffs away in a marketplace and doubts whether the ban will help him cut down smoking.

"Not much of it. Only thing is you will have to see where you are, that is all," the smoker said.

But the government hopes that the ban will slowly make a difference, as it has in several countries, where curbs on smoking in public places have been imposed in recent years.

Smokers in India are apparently more vulnerable to tobacco-related diseases than those in other countries. A study earlier this year (published in New England Journal of Medicine) found that two-thirds of all smoking-related deaths in India occur relatively early - between the ages of 30 and 69.

The ban came into effect after the Supreme Court rejected a plea by cigarette giant Indian Tobacco Company and hotel interests for a delay.