India, Incense, and No Smoking
July 13, 2008 4:43 AM   Subscribe

Why is burning incense allowed inside No Smoking areas in India?

I'm guessing there's religious exemption, but that stuff aggravates my lungs much more than second-hand tobacco smoke. Nearly died the other day inside an Indian Airlines office, which had prominent "No Smoking" signs on every wall.
posted by Rash to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
I'm guessing there's religious exemption

Probably, only informally. The enforcement will be directed towards the prominent symbols i.e. tobacco products. Agarbatis (incenses) are a routine element in religious ceremonies at homes, offices..etc, so I don't expect them to be phased out in this yuga.

Also, adherence to law is a fairly malleable thing in India, e.g. recently the mayor of Mumbai has started getting rid of hookah bars, citing health concerns and "bad influence" on the younger generation, despite the fact that the laws employed to do so were present when these parlours first sprung up.
posted by Gyan at 5:09 AM on July 13, 2008

Also, second-hand smoke can give you cancer and incense cannot.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:46 AM on July 13, 2008

Also, second-hand smoke can give you cancer and incense cannot.

This is not true.
posted by pullayup at 6:00 AM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is not true.

Wow, I totally didn't see that one coming. I suppose I'm not worried though, it doesn't seem like a lot of monks get cancer. They're finding "cancer-causing materials" in everything these days.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:42 AM on July 13, 2008

Perhaps normal household consumption of incense is dramatically less than any of the temples sampled? Which would put individual incense burning in the 'safe' zone?

As for me, you can have all my incense when the household cleaning aisle is removed from the grocery store. (Man, I sound too much like Charlton Heston)
posted by danep at 6:55 AM on July 13, 2008

That BBC article is talking about a single, poorly ventilated temple where "during some major ceremonies, hundreds or even more than a thousand sticks are burnt at the same time."

This reminds me of studies where they take some relatively benign substance*, inject rats with it at quantities a human couldn't even begin to ingest and "discover" some horrible side effect. Gee, you mean if I give a rat an quarter of it's body weight in sugar substitute, it will get sick and die? Color me surprised.

*At normal consumption levels.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:32 AM on July 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes, but lets not forget that most forms of smoke, dust, and particulate matter are irritants to the lungs (with the exception of yummy steam baths). Whether or not they cause cancer way down the line is debatable, but I can't imagine that inhaling incense, however fragrant, can have posiitve effects on the respiratory system. Still, I guess I can't prove a negative in this way.
posted by softsantear at 7:48 AM on July 13, 2008

Best answer: There doesn't necessarily need to be a religious exemption. "No Smoking" means "no smoking tobacco" to pretty much anyone. Who knows if there is even any actual legal obligation behind this signage? (A: somebody with a notion about Indian clean indoor air standards, i.e. not me).

If not, the answer would basically be "because the people running things in those venues think incense is okay." It might violate the spirit of what no-smoking areas are about, but like that ever stopped people from behaving how they liked.
posted by nanojath at 9:49 AM on July 13, 2008

It's allowed because "No Smoking" refers to tobacco and incense has none.
You will have a hard time convincing the indians NOT to do this because there are cultural and religious connotations involved. My advice would be to either avoid such areas or use a very thick barrier between yourself and the incense (e.g. surgical mask).
posted by gadha at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2008

I have a few things to note on this: 1. The study about temples mentions that sometimes it would be hard to see through the smoke, hundreds or thousands of incense sticks are burned and even then levels of harmful particles are a little higher than at an intersection. Compare with a typical office burning of 1-2 sticks. 2. Tobacco smoke is terrible when it's stale. When tobacco smoke is fresh, it's actually very nice. When it gets stale it's very hard to tolerate. Incense smoke does not get stale, it just hangs around for some time then slowly disperses and disappears. 3. If you're unused to incense smoke it may be irritating at first but then you will probably get used very quickly to it (I did). 4. With incense people will usually burn one stick and then wait for its smell to disperse, then light another one. With smoking you might have a room full of people smoking all at the same time for hours, because they want to smoke themselves, not to just have some small amount of cigarette smoke in the room. 5. Incense smoke can be irritating depending on the flavor of perfume - the only one I found that was never irritating was Patchouli. 6. The incense serves a useful purpose of covering various smells, BOs, etc, while tobacco smoke, as I mentioned, is in itself a problem when it gets stale. 7. I hate the smell of fragrances, perfumes, lotions that people use in western countries. I think smell of natural incense is much easier to get used to while smell of fragrances is impossible to get used to if you don't like them in the first place.
posted by rainy at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2008

Cultural differences? Maybe like the recent Dutch law which permits smoking pot in coffee houses, but bans tobacco.
posted by Neiltupper at 12:40 PM on July 13, 2008

The salient point of the Beeb article, in my opinion, was that there's nothing especially magical about secondhand cigarette smoke's ability to cause cancer. Burning dried plants inside is not great for the quality of the air no matter how you slice it, whether it's a cigarette, cigars, incense or a cooking fire.
That said, there's nothing magically cancer-making about incense, either.
posted by pullayup at 1:37 PM on July 13, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah but IMO "No Smoking"s all about quality of life, not merely prevention of a worst-case cancer scenario.
posted by Rash at 6:29 AM on July 16, 2008

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