Nationalising tobacco industry; a possible way to control tobacco

tobacco-kills-25001  Many found it an unusual conclusion (and some apparently radical) when speaking at the “Conference on Strategy Planning on Tobacco Control (in May 2006)” I suggested that “Nationalisation of the Tobacco Industry” is a possible solution to tackle the tobacco menace. Many jaws dropped and I could clearly see many mouths wide open on this suggestion; a few also labelled me as “Removed from the reality” and suggested me to become “Practical.”

For me, this “Nationalisation” option was not an out-of-the-blues impromptu bombshell but rather a well thought out and deliberated suggestion. I had carefully pondered over the possible options after considering the actual state of affairs and the condition of governance in India before arriving at the suggested conclusion of taking over of the tobacco industry by the government as one of the most practical ways of containing tobacco. Some may not agree; I am willing to provide all of them reasons on how and why this is one of the best options for India.

It is impossible to restrain the profit minded tobacco companies just by enforcing legislation or other such methods so we have to find more effective and practical ways to stop the five million annual death-toll due to tobacco. The industry is incorrigible and for them profit will always weigh over the human lives. Even with the most benevolent intentions, it is a foolish assumption (I think it is) that the tobacco industry will work for it’s own de-growth. If tomorrow, cocaine and marijuana becomes even partially legal many greedy hounds will happily jump in to sell that too. We have no phase-out plan for tobacco so that’s a good thing for the industry; it sends a clear message that they can continue doing what they are doing and that tobacco will remain in the society for time immemorial.

A phased de-growth can only be worked out by the governments and not the industry. For this it is pertinent that the government takes over the tobacco industry under its complete control by nationalising tobacco and working on a fade-off plan.

This can be done by chalking out a 20 years phase-out plan with a targeted and properly planned 5 to 10 percent de-growth for the tobacco industry every year. After the premeditated period of 20 years the tobacco industry will shrink to the size of less than one sixth of the present size and then it could be extinguished. This kind of planning is also in the interest of the highly exploited tobacco farmers as the earning from tobacco during the intervening period can go to these marginalised farmers and thereby enable a scientifically phased shifting of the tobacco crop with other cash rich crops. Currently all the earning generated by exploiting tobacco farmers and by tobacco sales are siphoned by a handful of rich tobacco manufacturers and individuals but after nationalisation of the industry a part of the tobacco earning could also be used to treat tobacco related ailments and to meet other health care costs.

Who loose if tobacco industry is taken over by the government?

Public; No. All sections of the society stand to gain out of it.
Tobacco users; No; tobacco would be still available as it is on date; there is no proposal to ban it.
Farmers; No; rather they stand to gain by the additional revenue and by better wages if the government takes over the industry.
Government; No; there shall be greater revenue now available besides by phasing out tobacco, the health care cost will also start coming down.
Share holders; No; system to pay them back the share value over a period of time can be worked out and no economic loss would be caused.

So it’s only a win-win situation barring some minor losses to around 10-20 people around the world who illegally siphon most of the tobacco money.

In a civilised society why should any individual be allowed to profit from someone else’s miseries and death? When for a relatively minor violation affecting human health like selling pest infested food articles, etc. one is put behind bars (for years) under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, then how can we turn a nelsons’ eye to a deadly product like tobacco?

The other urgent requirement (For which we are working since the last two years [now 5]) is that of licensing the tobacco trade. When even benevolent medicines are sold only through licensed chemists then why should a fatal drug delivery product, “Tobacco” be openly sold? Immediate licensing of all tobacco related activities will add billions of rupees to the government kitty and also be highly helpful in regulating most of the tobacco related demand side violations.

It is a historical mistake that tobacco became a legal product but now is the time to rectify the mistake. We have all the facts, rationale and means to correct one of the biggest mistakes of the civilised world. Let’s work for it.

Hemant Goswami


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