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The Right to Stupidity

I wonder why we can't make Cigarettes, Bidis, and Ghutka illegal. A little Googling reveals that the government does not have the guts to do so:
  • The Indian government considers Tobacco as a legal, agricultural product.
  • Cigarettes contribute nearly 10 per cent of total excise to the exchequer. [Link]
  • The Indian government has invested 33% in equity holdings of India's main tobacco companies. [Link]
  • Tobacco industry gets every type of subsidy from A to Z and from Z to A -- agriculture, seeds, transport, water, electricity, the works. The total estimates have never been calculated.[ Link]
  • ITC alone employs more than 20,000 people. So, if we made Cigarettes illegal, thousands of people will lose their livelihood. The government obviously does not want to get into this issue.
  • Other than that, the bulk of India's domestic consumption of tobacco is in the form of chewing tobacco or smoking bidis. Because Bidis and other forms of Tobacco products are largely in the unorganized sector (and can't be brought under the tax net) the government screws the Cigarette smokers, who amount to only 13% of all tobacco smokers (see link) and pay 55% tax on every cigarette they buy. There is no way we are banning Cigarettes or declaring Tobacco as an illegal product.
Our Honorable Health Minister has hogged a lot of media coverage, thanks to his high-profile, high-visibility campaign against Tobacco consumption.
CNN-IBN quotes him:
"Right now the fine is Rs 200 rupees, but soon we want to make it Rs 1,000 for individuals and Rs 5,000 for institutions that are allowing this," said Ramadoss.
And, we all know about his public tiffs with Bollywood celebrities. To make his case, he comes up with statistics. He says "13 per cent children in the age group of 13-16 years consume tobacco." Yes sir, that is very sad. What is the remedy to it? Make a law, like in the USA, where one can't buy smokes unless he or she provides an identification and age proof. Now, you might laugh and say 'hey that is impossible to enforce in our country.' I agree. But so is the public smoking ban that will come into effect on October 2nd.

Some reports state that enforcing a ban on smoking has given positive results in developed countries. I am not against ban on smoking in public places mind you. My angst is that our Health Minister is doing this for publicity. There are graver health-care issues facing us.

A UNICEF report says:
  • With over 240 million children under the age of five, India contributes 25 percent of the world�s child deaths. It is evident that a major turnaround in India will ensure a significant impact globally!"
  • "The message of hope in this challenging scenario is that a vast majority of children can be saved through a combination of good care, nutrition, and medical treatment. It is believed that other easy measures could prevent 90% of diarrhea deaths, 62% of pneumonia deaths, 100% measles deaths 92% malaria deaths, 44% HIV/AIDS deaths and 52% neonatal fatalities."
We are a different country. Statistics and research from the so called developed countries are not entirely relevant to us. The tobacco consumer profile is unique in India. The health minister should be forming his anti-tobacco/anti-smoking policies based on ground realities and not on some fancy report from the West. And, he should be saving our dying children instead of trying to save idiots that smoke out of their free will. An adult smokes knowing fully well that it is harmful. That is his liberty. It is impractical and silly to play the big daddy and think for every goddamned adult in this country.
We voted for you sir but we'd like it if you stopped poking your nose in our personal lives. Stop shopkeepers selling smokes to kids and leave the adults of this country alone. If an idiot chooses to die, he will. Ban or not. I am an idiot and I know it. And, I have the right to be an idiot, as long as I am not enroaching on someone else's liberty.

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Blogger Raghu said...

Interesting viewpoint & is highly debatable...:-)...I guess successive governments have come out with measures like this but those have proven to be a failure because of enforcement you very rightly say, u can't play a Big Daddy for a vast country like India. I will have to admit that I have been a victim of passive smoking for number of times since our childhood and I still remember those days when I used to travel to Katpadi (my grandparents' place), I had trouble with those big lungi uncles smoking beedis and hearing my mom's 'silent' abuses...
Point is what is the other way out?...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4:27:00 PM GMT+05:30  
Blogger Shalin said...

Suman, don't waste time playing the blaming game. Everything that a government, corporate and most individuals do can be blamed. At work, we come up with some ideal rules that everyone knows are hard to implement. If you want to call yourself an idiot - why can't the government call themselves morons working for idiots.

Coming to the point, smoking should be banned from all public places including most private campuses. It should be a law whether practical in our country or not. Let companies and brands like ITC build smoking rooms like the ones seen in the west for people to go and smoke.

More than the rule, it is about that masses know that this is a law and they can fight their right when they need it.

I am on your blog after quite a while, get something more constructive out - you are a damn talented writed. Sunnu 2? Something that inspires?

Thursday, September 11, 2008 10:43:00 AM GMT+05:30  
Blogger suman kumar said...

Shalin which part of "I am not against ban on smoking in public places mind you." you did not understand? My post talks about 3 issues: 1) Priority: Is child mortality a bigger issue? We contribute to 25% of it worldwide OR adults smoking? 2)Hypocrisy: The govt invests in tobacco companies and provides amazing subsidies for tobacco farming. 3)Liberty: I don't want the government to play the big daddy. I am an adult and I choose knowing the consequences. You didn't read my post completely I think. I know exactly what I said and I was not blaming, I was only questioning certain inconsistencies.

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:36:00 AM GMT+05:30  
Blogger Shalin said...

I agree, i just went too fast reading the article. Sorry for that.

Know you aren't against it - I know it won't solve the bigger problem which you mentioned. Some of this is going to have an indirect effect on the other issues. Think about it. You see less you do less.

I think govt. has already brought the rule to not sell tobacco products near schools. Have you taken a note of that?

Subsidy is given to farmers not companies. Since tobacco is not illegal they can do so.
Heavy tax is applied is so that the product is expensive and reaches lesser hands.
The product is shipped with warning, unfortunately many people can't read but they all know what it does. And for everyone who can read are still helping the business grow.

Every law is debatable from the liberty point of view. I think the country is liberal enough or else we would be another america. Gun shots in schools are much common because kids see ppl carrying guns all the time.

Forget this debate, all I want to say is write something like you do otherwise. I like your bird pictures a lot. Not taking your liberty to write here nor imposing view or dictating anything. Just a feedback on what I would like to read here.

I hope you know what I mean. :) I am following your other posts! Cheers!

Thursday, September 11, 2008 12:12:00 PM GMT+05:30  
Blogger suman kumar said...

Ok ok! I thought I know I can disagree with you and I did. Hope you like my latest stories.

Thursday, September 11, 2008 1:09:00 PM GMT+05:30  
Anonymous sugumar said...

I liked your post. They will subsidise to grow it, they will invest in the business ofit, and then they will ban public use of it....

It is not right way or wrong way, it is called Indian way!
I call it crap. But you can do any crap in our country becuase our people they themselves will JUSTIFY and CONVINCE themselves.

Friday, September 12, 2008 2:31:00 AM GMT+05:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you currently smoke or not smoke?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 4:04:00 PM GMT+05:30  
Blogger suman kumar said...

how does it matter? Say I do smoke, so? Say I don't, so what? The argument sticks whether I am a smoker or not.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 4:06:00 PM GMT+05:30  

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