#Vitarkka: Two of India’s highest revenue generators are Cigarettes and Liquor. Both undoubtedly controversial. WHO’s report said that over 1 Million (10 Lakh) Indians died as a result of various smoking diseases accounting for a staggering 9.5% of all deaths. 48% die due to Cardio Vascular Diseases (CVD), 23% due to Chronic respiratory disease (CRD), 14% from communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases (CMNND) and 10% from Cancer. There are over 265 Million smokers who also cause an environment for second hand smoking which is also a huge threat especially amongst infants and children.

The cigarette business is primarily controlled by one behemoth ITC which controls 78% of the market followed by VST Industries (British American Tobacco) with 8% and Godfrey Phillips which accounts for 8% too. The balance form the unorganised segment. During 2017-18 fiscal, India exported tobacco and tobacco products of over 2 lakh tons worth Rs 5,500 Crores. The government last year collected over 30000 Crores of tax in India from the tobacco industry and spent over 3.5 times that amount on direct and indirect health-care costs, which amounted to, in 2011, over 1.05 Lakh Crores and in recent years has shot up further. 

Anyone can retail cigarettes without a license hence it is rampantly available. While the government has taken steps to show the public the harm cigarettes can do and have in most places banned it in public places, the change in sales has been miniscule. 

Alcohol on the other hand is highly controlled for some reason. One has to procure licenses which in many states are limited to a few thousands licenses in number and these go for exorbitant premiums. In Bangalore (Karnataka) for example, buying a CL9 license from the street costs upwards of 1.5-1.75 Crores and with transfer costs and charges, it lands up over 2.25 Crores. The CL  license allows sale of all types of alcohol. Also, the state controls the sale of liquor therefore all the purchases have to be done through a government agency called MSIL in Karnataka.

Even though wine has a higher alcoholic content than beer, the wine license is lesser priced for retail or to sell in restaurants. Beer again surprisingly falls under the hard-liquor category (which has over 40% alcohol content over beer which hovers around 6%) and hence has a heftier license price.  In recent times most states have introduced the Micro-Brewery license to allow larger format restaurants to manufacture and retail beer in their own premises. Upto a certain capacity, one can also manufacture beer and sell it to bars and pubs in the keg form. While Indians consumption of Whiskey is amongst the largest in the world, the overall consumption of hard liquor (Spirits) was over 90% while Beer accounted for 8% and wine under 1%.

The alcohol per capita consumption increased in India from 2.4 Litres in 2005 to 5.7 Litres in 2016 according to WHO. China in the same period moved from 4.1 to 7.2 Litres. The market is over 280,000 Crores worth.

The deaths attributed to alcohol consumption in India according to a WHO report was about 264,000 people in 2016. The major contributing factor was Liver Cirrhosis with 140,000 deaths (54%), road accidents was 93000 (35%) and Cancer was 31000 (11%). 

Another intoxicant which is slowly percolating downwards to society and is an ancient herb “Cannabis” which is known to be in consumption in India for over 4000 years and is considered medicinal with science stating it has the ability to cure cancer and several ailments. In India it has different names for different parts of the plant being used viz.,Charas (Resin), Ganja (Flower) and Bhang (Seeds and leaves). Like in most ancient cultures in Peru and Africa where variants of these natural plants were used as intoxicants, so was Cannabis in India both for health and vitality.

Currently it is legal to grow Cannabis in Uttarakhand while illegally there are several plantations across the country most popularly in Kerala, Orissa, Karnataka and Andhra. Nepal too has supply coming into India. While in the United States of America, 10 States have legalised the use of Cannabis for recreational purposes whilst 13 states have decriminalised it. Many countries are looking at legalising Cannabis for its ancient medicinal properties.

It is no secret that any substance done in moderation will rarely harm the human body. If abused, one cannot hope for a positive result. In Tobacco which is the number one killer followed by alcohol, both these cases have deaths which occur as a result of abuse. While Tobacco is widely available without any licensing at the retail points, alcohol is somehow criminalised when the damage caused by this intoxicant is far lesser when compared to tobacco. Many states have banned alcohol but surprisingly the consumptions in these states is still high which tells us that banning any substance is not the solution but leads to bigger problems, one which comes to mind is adulterated products which could be fatal.

Our governments should take a more holistic approach to guiding people on consuming these products and manufacturers should explain how one could avoid risking their health and what are the safe limits and precautions to be taken. 

Raj Kaushik – Vitarkka

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