India is a funny country. Here you can kill your unborn or new-born daughter but you cannot kill a cow. You can hurt country’s infrastructure but cannot hurt a society’s (perceived) sentiments. And here you can produce as much tobacco as you want, but cannot hold it in your hand in front of the camera.

But then, where “har symbol kuchh kehta hai”, how much more can we be surprised of anything? Especially if the one doing the talking is a maverick like  Union Minister of Health, Anbumani Ramadoss.

If the minister is not busy fighting the director and students of AIIMS, he is almost always found taking on film-stars and their posters. After sending notices to Amitabh Bachchan and the makers of (Hindi film) Family, he is always busy watching promos and publicity material of new films, so that if he sees someone with something even remotely related to a cigarette (in Amitabh’s case, it was a cigar), he can “ask the offenders to explain the reason” and then later to delete those portions of the film, at least from the publicity materials. And this in a country which is the second biggest producer and consumer of tobacco in the world!

Tobacco was introduced by the Portuguese to India some 400 years ago. Today, India is among the top three producers in the world of this killer weed, turning out around 700 million kg annually from 40 million hectares.

Tobacco causes over 20 categories of fatal and disabling diseases, especially cancer.

Sixty-five per cent of all men and 33 per cent of all women in India use tobacco in some form. According to a report in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, nearly half the cancer cases in India are tobacco-related. Oral cancer is a major public health problem in our country and has long been linked with the habit of chewing betel laced with tobacco.

As many as 8,00,000 Indians succumb every year to tobacco-related illnesses and most of them die before they have reached 40 years of age. WHO has projected that by 2020 tobacco will account for 13 per cent of all deaths in India.
And yet, tobacco, whose products are habit-forming and internationally condemned for causing cancer, is freely cultivated in India. I apologise for lack of latest data on hand, but a few years ago, the total area and production of Tobacco in India were 463.5 thousand hectares and 646 million kilo grams respectively! Expect the present figures to be at least 150% of those figures.

Add to it the fact that tobacco receives government support in the form of research inputs to enhance farm productivity and subsidies for export!

If that shocked you, read this:  Tobacco is traditional item of India’s foreign trade. India is one of the leading Tobacco exporting countries in the world. India accounts for 5.8% of the international trade and ranks 5th after Brazil, U.S.A. Turkey and Zimbabwe. The principal markets for Indian Tobacco are (the countries of the erstwhile) U.S.S.R, U.K, Japan and Middle East countries.

The tobacco industry employs nearly 35 million people in the country including six million farmers, 20 million farm workers, 4.4 million bidi-making workers, 2.2 million tribals engaged in gathering tendu leaves (which go into bidi covers) and two million traders/retailers.

And that is where the root of the problem lies – the stake of millions, both directly and indirectly, in the business of tobacco.

While the government might be able to find alternatives for the existing annual tax revenue of about Rs. 7500 Crores from the tobacco industry, it would find it next to impossible to escape the anger of the few million who would suddenly become jobless if tobacco were to be banned today.

So dear friend, like almost everything else in this country, the decision to continue with tobacco too is immensely and absolutely political in nature. No politics, no tobacco. But no politics would also mean no India, right?
In the light of the aforementioned how serious is the issue of Vivek Oberoi lighting up a stick in the movie posters of Shootout At Lokhandwala. And heck, what would Rajnikanth be without cigarette!

Anbomani Ramadoss would be better served in worrying about the millions of children who die every year in India due to malnutrition than worrying about film posters. But then, wouldn’t that kill the politician in him?


Author. Entrepreneur. Filmmaker. Journalist.

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