Opinion

Smoke and mirrors

R Srinivasan | Updated on January 19, 2018

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We need social action on tobacco, not more laws

The BJP government in Haryana has been on overdrive to cleanse the State of various ‘ills’ it perceives as threatening the social and moral fabric of the people. After an attempt to ban alcohol in the 1990 led to skyrocketing consumption of spurious liquor and many resultant deaths, the State has not had formal prohibition. One can find a vend in practically every village in the state, though rules covering booze sales are among the toughest in India!

But the clean-up hasn’t stopped at booze. It not has not only banned beef, but made the possession and sale of beef a criminal, non-bailable offence. Although the communal hookah is as much a part of the Haryana rural scene as cows and khap panchayats, the government has nevertheless attempted to ban all kinds of tobacco products. After being ordered to not use coercion to enforce the ban by the Court, the State administration went ahead and banned the manufacture and sale of any kind of chewable tobacco product, including pan masala and gutka.

Now, it has gone a step further. Haryana has become the first state in the country — and probably anywhere in the world — to formally notify nicotine as a poison. Nicotine joins a list of 19 other strong acids and pesticides, which means the sale, storage and distribution of any product with nicotine “in any form” will come under the same stringent regulations covering strong poisons like cyanide!

The move smacks of the hypocrisy which has tended to inform all administrative actions aimed at stamping out ‘social ills’. Haryana, for instance, not only has one of the highest rates of taxes on liquor, but also grows tobacco as a crop!

States will devoutly espouse the idea of prohibition, but mint money by taxing alcohol — in fact the principal objection of most states to GST is taking alcohol and tobacco taxes out of their purview.

Declaring nicotine a notified poison is ridiculous. Only social action can work to eradicate tobacco or alcohol consumption. Coercive laws will simply criminalise the act, and open the floodgates of corruption.

Senior Associate Editor

Published on January 22, 2016

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