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Public Health

The paradox of tobacco and cigarettes in India

Smoking is bad for health. Period. I think that debate has been over for a long time. The idea of having a smoke once in a while is not so bad as the addictive nature of cigarettes. The same I can say for all forms of Tobacco consumed in India.

Smoking is not a few phenomena in the country. There is evidence of Bhang and Cannabis consumption for almost 2000 years. It is even prescribed in ancient texts as a medicinal practice to manage pain and neurological disorders. Most recently Hookah has been used by both the royalty as well as the common people.

Now tobacco accounts for almost 10 million deaths in the country. Add to it the impact it has on the cardiovascular system and respiratory system would make it a very lethal habit to cultivate. Cigarettes for example contain more than 7000 chemicals out of which more than 250 are harmful and more than 60 are carcinogenic. This brings me to Cancer which continues unabated in the country. Non Communicable diseases also continue to be boosted by the habit of chewing and smoking tobacco.

While India has implemented many laws including Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) with the creation of a National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) in 2007. But the real reason why Indian government can never control or remove tobacco is the economics of it.

Today the tobacco industry caters to almost 120 million customers in India. The vast majority of tobacco is grown in Karnataka, Andhra, and Gujrat. Almost 50% of the tobacco consumed in India is the chewable type used in Gutka, Khaini and Zarda. Almost 30 % as bidis and only about 20% as cigarettes.

The below graphs give us a sense of the revenues from tobacco. This graph is particular to the cigarettes and the tax collection from smokers in the last decade.

There are many measures for controlling the consumption of cigarettes, there are Laws like COPTA, the ban on advertising, and the increasing control of public smoking in the country. But then who would kill the golden goose that gives almost 30,000 crores of revenue to the government from sale of tobacco products.

So on this World No Tobacco Day, I started thinking about what can be done to control the habit and reduce the disease burden of cigarettes while balancing the loss of revenue to the government?

Here is what I think can be done

  1. Treat smoking or chewing of tobacco as addiction. These individuals should enter therapy just like how we would expect people with drug addiction to undergo therapy.
  2. Focus on nutrition and health for the rural areas. One of the reasons why tobacco consumption is very popular, is because many people do not receive adequate nutrition. Tobacco consumption quells hunger and thats the sole reason why it should be tackled.
  3. Create smoking zones and tobacco consumption zones all over cities to ensure that the concentration of efforts to manage the communication and addiction can be well coordinated. Ban all consumption outside of these zone.

But the biggest challenge is how can the government substitute the 43,000 crores that it receives from tobacco sales. Now that is a question I leave open for economists. Do let me know how and I would be happy to make that discussion to the right authorities.

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5648391/
  2. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/science/smoking-causes-over-11-deaths-india-among-top-4-countries-report/article9618981.ece#
  3. https://www.indianmirror.com/indian-industries/tobacco.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoking_in_India#cite_note-8