Tobacco is consumed in India in many forms—in cigarettes, beedis, snuff, chewed raw and gutka. In any form tobacco is bad for health. Consumers know this and yet continue to use it carelessly.
Some 10% of the Indian population is addicted to the consumption of tobacco. Starting early in life (age 15 or so) and reaching the peak level by 40-49 years. There are an estimated 110 million males and a growing crop of 8 million females, who consider it a fashion to smoke, something that was taboo a decade ago!
Cigarettes are produced in the organized sector, some 108 billion sticks, which are taxed at the source. Beedi, the so- called poor-man’s cigarette, is basically produced in the cottage industry is not fully tax-compliant, possibly because of logistics. The tax revenue collected amounted to Rs70.86 billion while beedi contributed Rs4.3 billion during 2006-07. Revenue from Beedi industry was only one-third of the collectible because of the nature of production, in small houses as a cottage industry. Besides, a beedi smoker hardly has brand loyalty unlike the cigarette user. For some years now, fortunately, cigarette advertisements are banned.
Now the manufacturers are seriously considering if they should escape and reduce the taxation impact by reducing the size, as the tax is determined by the length of the stick!
We all know that tobacco usage can cause cancer. Yet we use the products in a nonchalant manner.
It may be recalled that, in order to discourage use of tobacco in public places, COPTA—Cigarette and Other Tobacco Prohibition Act—was passed. This Act defines the public places where one cannot smoke—such as bars, pubs, hotels, restaurants, auditoriums, bus stops, airports, railway stations, schools, colleges and offices. It also provided that separate zones be created in hotels, bars restaurants, etc where smoking may be allowed. COPTA was passed in 2003 and many cities, including, for example, Bangalore, does not strictly enforce this rule!
In many countries, one cannot smoke on the road, parks, etc. In fact, selling of tobacco products is strictly prohibited without presentation of proper ID and the buyer should be at least 18 years old. Surprise inspections are carried out and licenses to operate are cancelled, the seller is fined and shop closed.
However, in India, people smoke in trains and buses and fights between co-passengers are frequent. There is no way a TTE who travels in the train can control this situation, very much like the bus driver or the conductor. However, civil responsibility and sense prevails and smokers, if any, take the opportunity to puff away at stops!.
Let us take a look at the grim situation, how this smoking really starts?
Whether it is Ram, Rahim or Robert, exposure to smoking starts very early in life, like a parent or a close relative who smokes. Passive smoking starts from this point. A case history would reveal how it generally happens!
Ram, as a student lived in a joint family; he was more close to his grandparent than his own. Then, one day, the father turns around and says: “If I catch you smoking, I will break your hands”. Ram had seen others smoke outside his family, and not even the thought ever crossed his mind.
Yet, the challenge was acceptable and with a few friends, he managed to buy some beedis. All that they could dare to do was to have a few puffs and coughed it all the way home, having smoked in a different locality! Not much happened after that, until his father moved to a metro, on promotion. It was while concentrating on his studies, his cousin returned from abroad, and had trunk-load of Pall Mall and Chesterfield cigarettes. These were available at home and a sudden jump from Kareem beedis to Chesterfield was irresistible and the urge to smoke a ‘foreign’ cigarette won the day. It was a passing phase giving a sense of ‘achievement’.
The real urge to smoke, on a regular basis, aided by colleagues was when he began to work. From one or two free cigarettes a day, he began to buy one or two himself, until it became a habit to have a smoke after a cup of tea, lunch, snacks or dinner.
Ram graduated from getting freebies to buying a packet of 10 cigarettes a day and it became a constant companion. Just as work progressed from clerical position to that of an executive level, expensive brands replaced the cheaper cigarette, and one packet a day became two. By this time, tobacco companies started promoting 20 cigarette packs.
Meantime, some “well-wishers” in the smoking group suggested that Ram should now really go in for a pipe! Naturally, a Briar was bought along with some Virginia tobacco. Already, an occasional cigar after a good dinner and a VSOP was the norm of the day, and resultant complication was the consumption of tobacco in every manner possible. Fortunately, he did not experience the breathing difficulties and sleepless nights that follow in such a hectic life, which had moved him to two packs a day. Family pressure, the guilt of influencing his children did not appear to affect him until, one day, the reality kicked in by ‘loss’ of his prestigious job. Yet, Ram could not control his urge to smoke; instead, it was the cigarettes that controlled him.
In between, he had tried to give up smoking, by reducing the consumption pattern; switching brands and even substituting beedi for a cigarette as some “wise men” told him that this was a better option. Nothing worked! A special filter, to be used in four stages, was bought and tried, and it would not help stop smoking. Until one day…
And that day, Ram decided that “from tonight, I shall will not touch the cigarette; please help me, God”. With that determination, he simply crushed the last few cigarettes in the pack and threw it away. That was in 1984. He has kept his promise to himself till this day!
Cigarette prices vary and if we take a reasonable ‘quality’ cigarette, the average cost of a unit is Rs 5. Instead of taking the extreme consumption of 40 a day, and taking a mean average of 20, it would mean an expenditure of Rs100 a day, or some Rs36,500 per year. With a smoking life-span of 30 years, this would amount to Rs10,95,000 per smoker. India has some 120 million smokers. Imagine the colossal amount of money that has gone up in smoke! This, of course, excludes the health and medical costs that would be occurred for a patient; should he/she get the benefit of lung or other forms of cancer, the pain and misery would be horrendous.
What can the government do, apart from educating the public on the ills of smoking? Increase the taxes on all tobacco products; completely ban the sales and licenses for shops selling these products near the institutions identified by COPTA; not sell the products to anyone without ID proof; increase the personal tax for smokers and give a reduced rate slab for non-smokers; give special incentives for those converting tobacco growing land to other edible and exportable produce and rehabilitate those who have given up smoking!
If one applies the Systematic Investment Plan to divert the amount that would have gone into the purchase of tobacco products, he/she can Save, Invest and Prosper!!!