TRIVANDRUM — Ernakulam, the business hub of Kerala, has become India’s first smoking-free tourist destination. State Excise Minister K Babu declared the port city smoking-free at a function held at Marine Drive on Sunday.
District panchayat president Eldhose Kunnappillil released ‘smoke-free Ernakulam’ balloons on the occasion. Resident’s associations, Hotel and Restaurant Association, Vyapari Vyavasayi Association, Hotel and Bar Association, and other civil society groups declared their solidarity to the endeavour of ensuring and maintaining smoke-free status of public places. This was the result of 18-months of efforts made by the district administration, Health Department, Cochin Corporation and district panchayat under ‘Smoke-Free’ Ernakulam project. It was aimed at controlling smoking in public places and effective implementation of the Indian Tobacco Control Act.
The project was launched by putting warning signs against public smoking and the people’s right to smoke-free air in prominent public places. Later, training was given to police inspectors, panchayat secretaries, health inspectors in the Health Department and the corporation. District Collector Sheik Pareeth said an independent study conducted on smoking in public places had found that there was no active smoking in nearly 95 per cent of public places, including cinema halls and restaurants. The city achieved the fete 12 years after high court banned smoking in public places throughout Kerala for the first time in the country. The city that has several tourist attractions including heritage buildings built by the Dutch, Portuguese, the English and the local kings, is a premier tourism destination in the state. The smoking ban came on a petition filed by a house wife. Monamma Kokkad, a retired English professor at BCM College, Kottayam, moved the court after she was exposed to passive smoking while commuting by train between Cochin and Kottayam.
The police implemented the ban in the initial days by booking people at bus stops and railway stations and penalising them with fines ranging from Rs200 to Rs500, but the effort lost steam after a few months. Kottayam, where Monamma worked, however, took the smoking ban seriously and strictly implemented it in all restaurants, hotels, municipal corporation and all 75 villages.