ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 'Spittoon Syndrome'

How Effective Will Be the Anti-spitting Initiatives in India?

The unsanitary and uncivilised act of spitting is a culture-specific syndrome. New strategies need to be designed to tackle this problem.

In the developed world, the practice of spitting in public has declined largely due to behavioural and cultural changes. However, in the less developed countries, people are known to spit indiscriminately in public places, especially where there is a corner. The practice is not limited to the betel leaf-chewing population which discolours room corners and stairs in public offices. One can also observe people spitting on the roads, commuters dirtying public transport, moviegoers spitting in cinema halls. The act of spitting has sociocultural and especially gender dimensions (Lindstrom 1980); spitting is largely practised by men and one rarely finds women spitting in public places. Given the recent anti-spitting initiatives in India, it is important to debate the efficacy of legislations in the complex Indian scenario and suggest a comprehensive strategy for controlling the practice.

In the United States (US) and Europe, anti-spitting campaigns have a long history, dating back to the 1880s. Anti-spitting strategies were enacted in several US cities, including New York during the late 19th century as part of the anti-tuberculosis (TB) campaign terming spitting as “immoral” (Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century 2003). The initial efforts led by the American Lung Association under the “modern health crusade” were concentrated on educating the public. The strategy was by pasting notices and puting up bulletin boards everywhere—on the streets, trains, theatres, floors of shops, etc. Due to the widespread practice of spitting during those times, ladies even stopped wearing long trailing dresses for fear that they would sweep up tubercle bacilli, which was thought to survive in spit for an entire day. Most of these notices were addressed to men and even explicitly stated that women do not spit! Special spittoons were also provided during public gatherings which used to be regularly disinfected (American Lung Association Crusade).

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