Smoke Free Chennai: why legislation isn’t always enough

The launch of the Smokefree Chennai campaign – Governor of Tamil Nadu, Shri. Surjit Singh Barnala
Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation/Rathinum Arul
The launch of the Smokefree Chennai campaign – Governor of Tamil Nadu, Shri. Surjit Singh Barnala

Motivated by national legislation, civil society in Chennai organized under the banner of Smoke-free Chennai. It worked with the Chennai City Corporation to implement a smoke-free policy and to promote Chennai as a smoke-free city.

In India, The National Tobacco Control Bill was passed in 2003, but enforcement of smoke-free public places across the nation remains a challenge. Recognizing this, Chennai chose to adopt the national legislation, and set out to sensitize key stakeholders at an early stage. The numbers speak for themselves. The Smoke-Free Chennai Team met individually with 207 state legislative members, 150 city councillors, 113 police officers, and health officials from all 10 zones of Chennai city. Though these meetings and cross-sectoral workshops, key contacts and programme advocates were established, and support mobilized. The programme also helped boost collaboration with the police and implementing team.

Fact file: Chennai

Population: 4.34 million

Male: 30% Female: <1%

India’s 2003 Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) set out specific provisions to address smoking in public places. The COTPA rules of 2004 and, more recently, the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules of 2008 set out how the smoke-free provisions in the law are applied in practice. However, the smoke-free law permits designated smoking areas to be provided in hotels with more than 30 bedrooms, in restaurants with seating capacity for more than 30 customers and in airports. Nevertheless, there are strict conditions for where they can be sited, what it is permitted to do within them and how they must be constructed.

Key actions

Key actions by civil society and the local administration in Chennai to implement the smoke-free provisions of the COTPA include:

  • The development of the Smoke-Free Chennai policy that echoes the COTPA and the rules that relate to it.
  • Awareness-raising – including a series of workshops – was carried out with legislators, city councillors, workplace managers and the police.
  • Utilizing freedom of information legislation to identify where the smoke-free law was not being adhered to, to bring public bodies to account and to generate compliance.
  • On the same day as the start of the smoking ban notification (2 October 2008) and with the support of television and print media, the launch of the initiative included rallies and the distribution of campaign materials.
  • Task forces in each Chennai City zone monitor compliance, track smoke-free jurisdictions, support facilities to go smoke-free, help people to report violations and provide guidance for addressing violations and referring to tobacco cessation services.


  • High public support for the smoke-free agenda – 92% of people strongly support the smoke-free policy.
  • Levels of compliance with smoke-free legislation suggest that people’s exposure to second-hand smoke will have fallen significantly.
  • There has been a considerable amount of earned media in the print media and on television and radio.
  • The focus on the smoke-free agenda has added impetus to other tobacco control agendas in the city.

Lessons learnt

  • The importance of coordinating efforts between Government and NGOs if smoke-free interventions are to be successful.
  • Sensitizing stakeholders at an early stage helps to raise awareness and mobilize support for the smoke-free agenda.
  • Gaining media support can be important for spreading knowledge about the smoke-free agenda, putting pressure on those responsible for enforcement and strengthening monitoring of compliance.
  • Ongoing compliance monitoring helps to achieve smoke-free success and ensure that it will be sustained.
  • A willingness to enforce smoke-free legislation, where necessary, is critical to its credibility and sustainability.