SMOKE SIGNALS THE GOVERNMENT’S PLAN TO BAN SMOKING AT WORKPLACES HAS COME UNDER FIRE FROM VARIOUS QUARTERS. VIREN NAIDU FINDS OUT WHY SOME PEOPLE THINK THIS PLAN REEKS OF UNFAIRNESS…
Many of us first experimented with the guilty pleasure of smoking during our college years. As we grew older, some of us carried this vice into our workplaces as well. Today, there is scarcely a single office building in India that doesn’t have nooks and stairways used by smokers for chit-chatting or relaxing. However, with the Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss’s decision to broaden the anti-tobacco law to curb smoking at workplaces, finding a place to smoke at work can be a daunting task. The effort is obviously to prevent individuals from jeopardising others’ health and perhaps also force them to quit (since most of us spend a large portion of our waking hours at work). But is this fair? The reactions pouring in from corporate India are mixed.
SUCH A DRAG… You don’t smoke because you are very well aware of the hazards involved. But perhaps you may have office pals who request your ‘company’ for a smoke in the corridor. Your health and productivity at work may be affected by your mere proximity to a smoker. Therefore, several companies cite the dangers of passive smoking as one of the reasons for not allowing smoking at work. However, experts believe that smokers aren’t always blind to their colleagues’ preferences. “Most professionals who smoke out of choice are well aware of the issues associated with passive smoking and respect the non-smokers’ decision,” says Manish Porwal , MD India – South and West, Starcom.
The ill-effects of smoking are said to include decrease in productivity levels and absenteeism. But even this point comes in for rebuttal. “I don’t think smoking is the reason for lower productivity and absenteeism. Unless and until a person is a chronic smoker, he/she will not resort to taking breaks just to get away and smoke,” says Shrikant Dikhale, VP-HR, Kansai Nerolac Paints Limited. Having said that, Porwal adds, “Smokers usually don’t intend to bring any negative issues to the organisation but may unknowingly add to them. Managers face the problem of first identifying such issues, linking them with smoking and then curbing them. But having said that, there surely will be exceptions.”
HOLY SMOKE… Some people smoke at the workplace when under stress; some say they need a break (just like a tea break), while a few get together for ‘brain-storming sessions’. The excuses are many. “Birds of a feather flock together. People with similar habits do get along faster and bond quicker,” says Ajit Menon, Executive Vice President and Head –Leadership Learning and Change (LLC), Mudra Communications. Naresh Mallik, CEO, Pixion Studios agrees, “We are all social animals; therefore we have this compulsive desire to bond. If not this then we will find some other reasons.” Dikhale, too, puts forth an interesting point, “It is true that smoking can lead to people getting together in groups. In a way, it increases bonding when individuals share a common habit. However, the same is applicable in the case of alcoholics also.
Bonding in such ways may not lead to productive discussions about work, but may end up more as social bonding exercises.” Porwal adds, “Smoking (like drinking) allows informality and ice-breaking within groups and allows impromptu brain-storming which may be good for employees working in creative fields. In high pressure and people led industries, informal smoke groups often help come up with ideas which boardroom brainstorming sessions may not generate.” Having said this, experts do believe that the cons far outweigh the pros.
PUFFED UP... So will the government’s ‘no smoking’ ban work for employees? Dikhale says, “In our view, levelling higher taxes/levies on tobacco products should be the right way of restricting smoking rather than imposing ‘no smoking’ zones in offices. I don’t think this ban will be accepted by employees who smoke. They will probably request for dedicated smoking zones within the office.” Mallik, too, has a similar opinion, “We are localising the enforcement; therefore acceptance should not meet too much resistance. It is like you can’t be drunk while driving, whereas you do not care if you drink at home.” Menon opines, “Smoking professionals would not like any rule that forbids them from smoking. But I have yet to see a smoker making a huge hue and cry of the smoking ban. If a guy really needs a nicotine fix, then he/she should find a place where it is allowed to smoke freely. The other outlets to curb smoking are nicotine patches and nicotine chewing gums which do not cause any hassles for non-smokers or smokers alike. The railways, airports and BPOs have been following this policy for long. And nobody seems to be affected by it. If somebody cannot do without a smoke, then he/she needs rehab.” Porwal agrees, “We are absolutely game for it as long as there is a way to quarantine or create smoking zones near or within the office premise. At Starcom, smoking is not allowed inside the building, but there are smoking zones created outside where smokers enjoy little breaks. If the rule still overlooks this method of easy co-existence, it might be a bit harsh on the smokers, but as good corporate citizens, it will be accepted.” Each year, the third Thursday in November marks the Great American Smokeout where smokers are encouraged to abstain from lighting up for 24 hours in anticipation that they just might quit smoking forever. In India, one day wouldn’t suffice. However, a solution that accommodates both non-smokers and smokers has to be better than one which discriminates against – and possibly hurts – the sentiments of a very large group of people.