Tobacco: the demerit goods

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The government is actively trying to curb the production of tobacco through Crop Diversification Programme and usage of tobacco consumption through social and electronic media campaigns, but the entire process will gain from understanding the perspective of the tobacco user; to gradually reduce and eventually quit tobacco consumption.

It has been researched that only 10% of active smokers are able to quit on self-reliance and the remaining percentage finds it difficult to quit this habit due to lack of other alternatives like group support, counseling and alternate products that are effective and help in tobacco cessation. Smokers only constitute to about 14% of the tobacco consuming population. India has the largest number of Smokeless Tobacco (SLT) users in the world with nearly 233 million users. SLT is consumed in various forms like chewing tobacco, snuff, khaini, gutka amongst other forms and are found to be more harmful than smoking.

India stands second in the world map for producing nearly 800 million kilograms per year, next only to China. Tobacco cultivation occupies only 0.24% of the country’s total arable land area and is cultivated across 13 states in India. Tobacco farming provides employment to nearly 50 million people in India like farmers, farm labours, leaf pluckers, bidi workers, factory workers, traders and retailers.

Leading Tobacco Farming Countries

Leading Tobacco Farming Countries-min

[In Million Kilograms]

India exports nearly 60% of the produce contributing to nearly INR 1300 crore of foreign exchange annually and the government also collects over INR 34000 crore annually through indirect and direct taxes from the domestic tobacco industry in India.
Representing two-third of the tobacco industry, the unorganized sector provides cheaper products as they evade tax or do not comply with regulations. The impact of the unorganized sector on the national exchequer is about INR 7000 annually.

Tobacco based employment in India

India is home to over 350 million tobacco users across the smoke and smokeless form, with nearly 233 million of our population using smokeless tobacco in one form or the other. Khaini is the most preferred form of tobacco consumption with nearly 11% of the population consuming it followed by bidi at 9% of the population smoking it, mostly in the rural areas of the country.

India Tobacco Statistics:

• India is the second largest consumer of tobacco
• India has the largest number of SLT users in the world
• On an average, Indians smoke about 6.2 cigarettes per day
• 28.6% of the population consumes tobacco: 10.7% smoke and 21.4% use SLT.
• Khaini (11%) and bidis (9%) are the dominant forms of tobacco consumed in India
• Bidis account for the largest proportion of smoked tobacco consumption in India
• Of the 346 million global consumers, India has 152.4 million men and 80.8 million women SLT consumers
• 3 in every 10 adults working indoor are exposed to Secondhand Smoke


Tobacco related illness is in the rise in India and kills nearly 1 million people every year.

Tobacco related deaths in India:

• Tobacco consumption causes one death every six second.
• Tobacco-related deaths expected to be around 8 million by 2030.
• Bidis contributed to nearly 6 lakh deaths every year.
• Major ailments like CVD, Tuberculosis, Strokes, Bronchitis and infertility are caused due to tobacco consumption.
• Tobacco accounts for about 30 percent of all cancers in men and women in India and accounts for 42 percent of all male deaths and 18.3 percent of all female deaths due to tobacco-related cancer.


There has been a strong effort from the authorities to curb the production and usage of tobacco in India. India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and has initiated action to reduce the production of tobacco through the Crop Diversification Programme. The government has aims to provide technical support and subsidies to aid the farmers in alternate farming like pulse crops, black pepper, sugarcane, oil palm and maize. Nearly 15% of the land under tobacco cultivation has been shifted to other crops cultivation under the governments Crop Diversification Programme.

Apart from this, the government is also running campaigns to curb the usage of tobacco related products through social and electronic media, prohibiting smoking in public places and public transport system and displaying images of tobacco affected organs on the cigarette packets. This initiative by the authorities led to a 6% decline in the overall number of tobacco users in the country.

But what the entire process lacks is ‘understanding the tobacco user’ and effectively designing programmes that will help to gradually reduce and eventually quit tobacco consumption.
Unlike alcohol addiction treatment that has counseling, self help groups and cessation products, tobacco users have to be self reliant and nearly 90% of them fail to overcome this addiction on their own. Tobacco addiction should be treated at par with other major addictions like alcohol and substance abuse and there should be regular interventions through counseling, group assessment and provision of cessation products that are effective in the de-addiction process. Another area is the lack of research and development in the area of cessation products. Three has been little or no research on the harm impact of e-cigarettes compared to cigarettes; and with considerable research e-cigarettes could also add along with other cessation products like chewable tablets and nicotine patches to help curb tobacco usage amongst addicted population. The smoking cessation and nicotine de-addiction market worth will be around $21.8 billion by 2024.

[Nilesh Jain is the author of the article and the founder of, an organization aimed at making India tobacco free.]