More than anything else this year’s budget has been about advertising and the final product delivered. The product is out there for everyone to judge so I won’t say anything here. For a democracy to be healthy and robust, every citizen must have at least one serious grouse with the budget. Mine is with the steep hike, from 11 per cent--72 per cent, in the excise duty on cigarette which means I am going to have to pay close to Rs100 extra for a pack of cigarettes in these inflated times.
Everyone expected the government to raise excise duty on cigarettes — so sure is the tobacco industry of the government’s plan every year that the prices shoot up weeks before the higher tax is announced. But 72 per cent? What about a smoker’s corner in the acche din lounge? Apparently, the Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan wanted the steep hike to stop people from smoking or if they still choose to smoke to make them pay for public health costs due to smoking-related issues. Only non-smokers will agree with Dr Harsh Vardhan. What a democracy! Where does this lead a smoker who suddenly finds herself poorer for no fault of hers? Our health minister seems to have forgotten the golden rule of the clinic: a patient visits a doctor on account of vices, not virtues.
The anti-smoking campaign is so scientific that it has turned into a religious dogma of sorts, to seek the proof of which is questioning the unquestionable. It is repressive and aims at excellent data as opposed to harm-reduction. It promotes smoking by generating anger. Ask any smoker if she likes looking at the pictorial warnings on a cigarette pack? Cancer, I don’t doubt for even a second but does any of this ever work?
Raising excise duty on cigarettes exposes the unimaginative nature of the modern nation state. The idea that smokers should be punished for their habit so that they quit is a sadist notion. Prohibitions are the weapon of choice for a repressive regime. As a smoker I find it stupid to not endorse my habit and to treat it as a weakness. Indeed, there are times I imagine a better future for myself and, more often than not, the version of myself I see isn’t a smoker. However, my struggle with my habits to me has no moral basis. I don’t see smoking as bad. But that doesn’t imply there is something good about it.
I am not sure if the health minister is aware that getting someone to smoke a cigarette and relax is often a milestone in the treatment of several problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, bipolar disorder, extreme anxiety, chronic panic attacks, etc. I am not saying it is a treatment, only a milestone. The doctor may wish the patient give up smoking but the doctor can seldom deny that smoking cigarettes is a lot better than pushing oneself to death with hard drugs or alcohol. The reader should not trust me and attend the Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting nearest to their house as soon as possible. Ask the addicts or drunks there about giving up cigarettes and then perhaps you shall have your evidence. The thought is deeply disturbing. All around me smokers are going to have to make difficult choices. Some fathers will now pay less for their children, while others will switch to cheaper cigarettes to keep up the standards which, in turn, will make them more prone to cancer because cheaper cigarettes are likely to have poor filters, comparatively inferior paper, hence more carcinogens. Indeed some people may quit altogether but even out of them, a large section is likely to switch to some other less-taxed form of cancer.