Smoke and Mirrors around India’s ban on tobacco


With the new set of guidelines for Lockdown 2.0 ushered in yesterday, nothing specifically mentioned around production of cigarettes.

Riddhiman Roy

Kolkata: Smokers from all over the country are still stuck in a dilemma between quitting cigarettes altogether and hoarding a large amount of cigarettes, as the government-issued guidelines for Lockdown 2.0 does not carry any specifications around the production of cigarettes. 

“It is a bad time to be a smoker,” said Samadrito Sanyal, a recent graduate who is famous amongst his circle for smoking two cigarettes at a go.  Mr. Sanyal is not being able to handle the lockdown blues and the confusion surrounding the sale of cigarettes, which led to him, scavenging 17 boxes of cigarettes, yesterday, from various shops, after the new set of guidelines were released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), India.

But Mr Sanyal is not alone. There are thousands of jittery smokers out there who went out and bought every packet of cigarettes their eyes could find, and their wallets could afford after the new guidelines were released. “I have run out of cigarettes, bidis and even rolling tobacco in just one evening. Last evening was a roller coaster ride for me and various shopkeepers like me,” said Mr Ratan Ghosh, a grocery shop owner. 

Another shopkeeper, Mr Shovon Talukadar, who essentially runs a cigarette shop and has been running his business from inside his house since the announcement of the lockdown on March 25, 2020, had a rather amusing experience last night. “A regular customer of mine raided my house at around 12’o clock last night and bought my entire stock,” exclaimed Mr Talukdar. He had roughly 38-40 boxes for sale. All of them were bought in one transaction.

The Ministry of Home Affairs released a fresh set of guidelines for the extended lockdown on April 15, 2020. The guidelines mainly focused on easing the stress on the Indian economy by allowing a few key components like agriculture, fisheries, news media, IT firms, banking sectors and essential goods manufacturing plants to resume business partially.

Sale of sin goods like alcohol and cigarettes should be legalized by the government in order to collect the tax generated from its’ sale, according to Jadavpur University economics professor, Mrs Sanjukta Ukil. “Anyway all these products are being sold in the black market. It is better if the government capitalizes on it and starts treating it as a source of revenue,” said Mrs. Ukil.

But according to a report by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chewing tobacco products, paan masala and areca nut increases the production of saliva followed by a very strong urge to spit. “Spitting in public places could enhance the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” the report said.


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