Unraveling the Puzzle: Understanding India’s Anti-Tobacco Campaign Amidst Hesitation and Partial Bans


Tobacco Kills 154 People Every Hour but did this fact stop you from using it?

Yes, I mean yes I know it doesn’t make a difference till one day you realise …ooh oh… it’s too late!

World No tobacco Day showing broken cigarettes

Smoking in India has been known since at least 2000 BC when cannabis was smoked and is first mentioned in the Atharvaveda. Tobacco was introduced in India during the 17th century and till this date, it is still here despite the fact that around the early 1960s, smoking tobacco was recognised as a global lung cancer epidemic.

India initiated its battle against tobacco in 2003 when it was banned from public places and workplaces such as healthcare, educational, and government facilities and on public transport.

But before I tell you how far we have actually come in this battle against tobacco, First you need to know about  some hard hitting dark realities…..!!!

Now take a moment  to digest that in reality India is the second largest consumer and producer of tobacco!! So yes there is a long battle ahead!

According to a 2019 study, with over 186 million people, two out of every three people who chew tobacco around the world are Indians. 

 22 percent men are tobacco smokers!! To be exact this is 22.4 percent of men …. And Yes that 0.4 per cent matters! You know why? Because this age group of males starts from as young as 15 years old to 54 years old. The gravity of the issue is heightened by the fact that even children as young as 10 years old have started using tobacco products. It’s not that our youth is not aware of the harmful effects of tobacco like cancer related deaths.

In January this year, over 2000 individuals and associations had appealed to the prime minister and the finance minister to increase taxes on all tobacco products in the Budget for 2023-24. Not only that but they had also recommended that the revenue generated by tax hike be used to shift tobacco farmers to other crops and to provide an alternative livelihood to bidi and tobacco product vendors who might be affected by the tax hike. 

So did the youth win? Yes !!

But what does it all cost for the big tobacco industries? Merely anything!  

And for the Bidi industry? Nothing!

It may look good that for this year budget, a total staggering 16 per cent tax was increased under the National Calamity Contingent Duty (NCCD) on cigarettes. But according to Professor Rijo John, a health economist, told India Today, that the overall tax increased on cigarettes was only about 1.8 per cent, and its expected impact on the retail price of cigarettes is just about 1 per cent.

Extract from an article published by Sneha Mordani (India Today)

Extract from an article published by Sneha Mordani (India Today)

And to a total full surprise which our government loves to give, in this tax hike Bidis were excluded! But why does India hesitate to take strict actions against tobacco consumption?

India’s hesitation to enforce strict actions against tobacco consumption can be attributed to various factors. One significant factor is the economic dependence on the tobacco industry.

According to the ministry of commerce and industry, during the year 2021-22, India exported tobacco and tobacco products worth a total of US$ 923.80 million. In September 2022, the export of tobacco from India was US$ 125 million, which is a 72% rise from the same month of its previous year.

Tobacco provides livelihood security to 36 million people including 6 million farmers and 20 million farm labour engaged in tobacco farming. Besides this, 10 million people working in processing, manufacturing and exports, in India. Bidi rolling alone provides employment to 4.4 million people and 2.2 million tribals are involved in tendu leaf collection. The main beneficiaries are the small and marginal farmers, rural women, tribal youth and weaker sections of the society

India rural man smoking cigarette

You see, no matter what we do against it, this over dependence of such a majority on tobacco production and marketing is what makes us crawl. So we need to look into it first!

And fortunately the world realises it too! So this year’s theme for World No tobacco day is

“We need food, not tobacco” which aims to raise awareness about alternative crop production opportunities for tobacco farmers & encourage them to grow more sustainable, nutritious crops.

India has taken small steps towards raising awareness and supporting tobacco farmers.

The introduction of the Tobacco Growers Welfare Scheme is aimed at welfare of the FCV tobacco growers and their dependent families. A Tobacco Board’s Growers’ Welfare Fund has been approved by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India under this scheme. The total corpus approved is Rs. 25 crore (US$ 3.14 million).

The Union Health Ministry will launch a 60-day pan India campaign on the theme ‘tobacco-free youth’ on May 31 which will focus on taking steps to prevent initiation of tobacco use among youngsters and assisting users to quit.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2016-2017, around 43.3% of adults in Nagaland use tobacco, against a national average of 29%. Whereas there is a staggering increase of 64.5% in the northeastern state of Tripura. Seeing such heavy consumption, this year many states especially Nagaland and Tripura has launched a massive anti-tobacco campaign in schools to promote healthy living. An anti-tobacco raid was held in  Tripura and Jharkhand, during which at least 11 shopkeepers and 22 vendors were fined respectively.

What’s more?

1. Tamil Nadu extends ban on manufacturing, sale of tobacco-containing chewable food products

2. Anti-tobacco drive: 25 challaned in Mohali for COTPA Act violation

3. Health authorities rope in religious bodies to create awareness on tobacco-related cancer in Meghalaya

4. Health Ministry will also amend rules for Anti-tobacco warnings in OTT programmes soon

5. Soon, licence a must for tobacco sellers in Noida

6. Efforts being intensified to make public places smoking-free in Kargil

7. AIIMS Jodhpur study calls for more tax, stronger regulations against beedi industry

8. Stop advertising tobacco products on your buses, health dept tells KSRTC

The fight against tobacco in India is a complex battle, but small steps are being taken to address the issue. It requires collective efforts, awareness, and support to overcome the hesitation and make significant strides towards a tobacco-free nation.

Notably, the world is also recognizing India’s endeavours. Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges individuals and organizations across its six regions for their remarkable achievements in tobacco control.

In this year’s South-East Asia Region category, India proudly received two prestigious awards:

  • State Tobacco Control Cell (STCC), Government of Meghalaya, India
  • Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Development Research Dharwad, India

Let us remember that every day presents an opportunity for us to make positive choices for our health and well-being. By sharing this blog, inspiring others, and keeping the spirit of World No Tobacco Day alive throughout the year, we can contribute to the collective efforts aimed at creating a healthier and tobacco-free society.

Thank you for reading this, and until next time, stay strong, stay tobacco-free, and keep making a difference!

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