SC lifts ban on Hookah: Health activists shocked by the order

December 08, 2014: Monday was a sad day in the history of Tobacco control. It is disheartening to note that the Apex Court of the Nation had passed a verdict overlooking the larger interest of the public. In a major blow to tobacco control initiative the Supreme Court on Monday, December 08 through the bench comprising of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Nariman set aside the Bombay High Court order, and the orders of Madras and Gujarat High Court based on the Bombay High Court order and allowed restaurants to serve hookah. The said judgment of Apex court will derail the efforts of both Central and State Government to ban Hookah Bars that is becoming a major craze amongst the youth and promotes tobacco use contrary to the objective of COTPA, 2003.

It all began vide an order dated 5th May, 2011 in a Public Interest Litigation No.111 of 2011 in which the Bombay High Court directed the Municipal Corporation to incorporate terms and conditions while issuing licences under Section 479 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act so as to comply with the provisions of the Cigarettes Act and the Rules made there under. It is as a result of this direction that the impugned circular dated 4th July, 2011 was issued in which Conditions 35 to 37 in general conditions of licence issued under Section 394 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act were to be added. The Bombay High Court upheld the Circular by an order dated July 13, 2011. The Central Government (Ministry of Health) supporting the initiative of BMC issued letter to all Chief Secretaries for issuing similar orders. (Read: Hookah smoke could now cause cancer)

The Supreme Court while allowing bunch of appeals against the judgment of three High Courts quashed the Bombay High Court judgment and set aside the first paragraph of Condition No.35 (The licensee shall not keep or allow to keep or sell or provide any tobacco or tobacco related products in any form whether in the form of, cigar, bidis or otherwise with the aid of a pipe,wrapper or any other instrument in the licensed premises.) and the added words in clause (C) of Condition No.35.( The Smoking area shall be used only for the purpose of smoking and no other service(s) or any apparatus designed to facilitate smoking shall be provided). (Read: Hookah smoking just as dangerous as cigarettes?)

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Tobacco control activist are also aghast about the narrow interpretation given to the provision of the Central Act to allow functioning of hookah bar. Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, Head and Neck Surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital said 'I am dismayed at the narrow interpretation given to the provision of the Central Act that will allow mushrooming of hookah bar. Hookah bars are recent phenomenon and was not prevalent when the Act was enacted in the year 2003. Therefore the provisions had to interpreted on the light of the objective of the Act as given in its preamble.i.e. to discourage and eventually prohibit tobacco use. Protection from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.' The logic behind creating smoking area is to address the issue of withdrawal symptoms. It is said that an Act enacted to protect public health and improve public health is interpreted to promote tobacco use especially amongst the youth who are frequent at such places. Dr. Gupta, Director, Healis stated that ' The decision is unfortunate and the law needs to be implemented in true spirit so that there is no kind of services to be provided in the area that promotes smoking or tobacco consumption'. (Read: Hookah bars have higher indoor air pollution)

Mr Sanjay Seth of Healis said - ' serving the hookah in the smoking zone will expose the hotel/restaurant staff to carcinogenic fumes. BMC had done a wonderful job in protecting the health of those innocent employees by banning the service in smoking areas.

Image source: Getty images

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