The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir had recently banned the sale of loose cigarettes. To check I went to the nearest ‘panwari’s khokha’ and asked for a loose cigarette. The ban had been written in letter but had not been implemented. That was a week ago and the situation has not changed.
Yesterday, another ban came into force where cigarette packets not showing warning images covering 85 percent of the pack cannot be sold anymore. I went to the ‘Panwari’s Khokha again to buy a pack of cigarettes just to see. I chose loose cigarettes again. In the back of my mind, I had this proud feeling of having defied the law. To reward myself, I bought two loose cigarettes as against my normal one. In fact I smoked the two of my gold-and-white adorable friends right then. There was no way anyone would be keeping track of this, is what I smirked about.
Some of us smokers want to quit. We really do. Ask any smoker would they smoke more when they have loose cigarettes or when they have a pack. The answer is when they have a pack. Most people would burn the pack in a day itself if they had the pack. Even those who claim they want to quit.
The argument put forth by the survey body, GATS, about the reduction in a fraction of percentage who will quit smoking is dubious and highly misleading.
First of all, GATS and VHAI have gone on record saying about 3 percent of Cigarette smokers and 9 percent of bidi smokers who’ll quit if the prices are increased.
In essence, just three percent would quit and everyone else will buy a cigarette pack to become a heavier smoker. That is bloody well how the revenues will rise.
As far as the 85 percent imagery is concerned, as a smoker and speaking on behalf of the entire cigarette-consuming fraternity, I am doubtful, if at all, the picture does any damage. The image of damaged lungs fails to register in the minds of the consumer. It is the element within that is of importance, not the pictorial representation, nobody cares about the picture. Maybe the three percent do, but that is not the purpose then is it?
Our state, Jammu and Kashmir, is termed as the ‘smoking capital of North India’, with cigarette consumption almost double the nationwide prevalence of 5.7 percent. The GATS’ study has revealed that the smokers here spend Rs 514 on cigarettes per month against the rest of the India average of Rs 399.
In their efforts to minimize the consumption, the Government of the state needs to understand the fact that they haven’t really done anything substantial to keep the taxes at a legitimate high, that would actually refrain people from buying cigarettes in the first place. Secondly, the ban on loose cigarettes doesn’t seem to be helping much. Their demands for revenue generated through this branch of products, specifically, has risen after the increase in the taxes. The fact being, an average smoker wouldn’t be bothered much if the cost of a single cigarette increases from Rs 10 to Rs 13. However, it the figure turns to 30 instead of 13, that might instigate a sense of thought in their(smoker) minds.
Even the ban on the sale of loose cigarettes isn’t effective enough. Considering the case, if it were strictly followed throughout the state, with rigid action taken against the defaulters, there is little hope that it would assist in bringing down the number of smokers.
From a few cigarettes to the entire packet, the consumption would only be increased.
To have a positive impact on public health and to actually, literally do something about it, cigarette prices need to increase faster than incomes to ensure that cigarettes become less affordable over time. A complete ban on cigarette and tobacco products altogether is on the other hand something that would help immensely.
For smokers like me, my life is a series of moments leading up to my next hit of nicotine relief. I have no plans of giving up. Unless, the government takes care of prohibiting it in a more persuasive manner, which I am secretly wishing happens, for my sake and for the sake of many others like me and not to forget the second-hand smokers. Until then, the little blighters are starting to blight me in more ways than one.