Smoking in public places violates Art.21 – Right to Health of non-smokers

No smoking posters are seen in most public places such as restaurants, railway stations, court houses etc. where there is presence of general public. While most countries around the world (including United States, Canada, Singapore, Australia and United Kingdom) have banned smoking in public places, the situation in India was quite worrisome.

The Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act, 1975 and The Cigarettes (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply, and Distribution) Bill, 2001 (let’s call them the tobacco laws) have been passed in India. These attempted to reduce or control the ill-effects of tobacco consumption on general public and the consequences of consuming tobacco in any form. However, no hard measures were taken to ban smoking in public areas. Therefore, in 2001, a Civil Writ under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution was filed by the then industrialist, social worker and politician, Mr. Murli Deora before the Supreme Court calling upon it to ban smoking from all public places and provide for strict action for those who violated the ban. The case was Murli Deora vs Union of India (2001 Supp(4) SCR 650).

The complainant questioned the validity of the tobacco laws. Mr. Murli Deora contended before court that smoking in public places cause many health problems to non-smokers. Several studies have shown that passive smoking decreases the life expectancy of smokers by up to 25 years, but few people are aware that smoking also affects the health of non-smokers who inhale the smoke,  and cause diseases such as lung cancer and asthma. Nearly 600,000 people die each year as a result of indirect smoke which enters the body by inhaling intoxicating substances found in smoke in their surroundings. Several illnesses, including ulcers, strokes, mouth and throat cancer, laryngeal cancer, multiple heart diseases, respiratory disease, bladder cancer, and cervical cancer, can be caused by constant smoking. It was contended that permitting smoking is violative of Article 21 which states that every person has right to live and personal liberty which will also include right to a healthy environment. Therefore, smoking in public places infringes the public’s right to a healthy environment. Important questions raised was:

  1. Is the court's decision to ban smoking only in public places correct?
  2. Why do people want to smoke when they are aware of the risks associated with it?
  3. Should the government take sole responsibility for preventing cigarette smoking in public places?

The Supreme Court observed that this case concerned the climate and public health, all of which are harmed by cigarette smoking. Public health is crucial in fostering, restoring, or preserving a country's standing. The Right to Health is also violated by cigarette smoking, which means that non-smokers' fundamental right to life under Article 21 is violated in this case. As a result, the Supreme Court has begun to discuss the importance of health as a fundamental right. The Court has shown that judges have immense power to affect social change when they so wish, as shown in the above case.

Therefore, while including the right to a healthy environment under the purview of Article 21, the Supreme Court passed an order banning smoking in public places, which include:

  1. Auditoria
  2. Hospital Buildings
  3. Health Institutions
  4. Educational Institutions
  5. Libraries
  6. Court Buildings
  7. Public Offices
  8. Public Conveyances, including Railways.

Based on this case, the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules, 2008 was passed, which banned smoking in public places including hotels, restaurants, banquet halls, shopping malls, cinema halls and any places where public has access. This case, and the new law has reversed the position: Earlier, for example, in restaurants and airport lounges, there used to be small non-smokers sections. Now there are NO SMOKING signs everywhere.

 

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Author
Rajesh Haldipur
Rajesh Haldipur

Founder, Law Gyani

Rajesh is a qualified CA & CWA. He has served as a Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Director of a large urban co-operative bank and Dean of a B-School over the years. He has taught Finance for over 20 years & trained participants from several Companies and B-Schools. He is an educator and a learner (he believes both are inextricably intertwined), and a knowledge product developer. Law Gyani, which he has founded to help Law Students with their exam preparations, and to understand nuances of the law.


Co-Author

A qualified lawyer enrolled with Bombay High Court, Nayan is an enthusiastic reader, mostly of Indian Mythology and World History. Also a binge watcher and enjoys travelling to new places.


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