Tobacco users in a fix amid COVID-19 lockdown

Tobacco users in a fix amid COVID-19 lockdown
Tobacco users in a fix amid COVID-19 lockdown

A 'No Tobacco' sign displayed in a shop in Dimapur. (Morung Photo)


Rebecca K Kits 
Dimapur| April 26

Tobacco users across Dimapur are having a tough time during the lockdown as the availability of tobacco products has gone down drastically in the state.

With the lockdown in force, tobacco users are left looking for their daily dose in every nook and corner, to no avail. Some who manage to find shops selling tobacco products- cigarettes, gutkha or pan masala, are also left with holes in their pockets as these products are being sold at exorbitant rates.

A meme doing the rounds on social media shows the price list of Shikhar- a highly consumed gutkha, in different colonies in Dimapur. It shows price ranging from Rs 35 to 350 for a packet whose actual MRP is Rs 20. 

While the price varies according to localities, customers confirmed that the price of all tobacco products have gone up. “It is ridiculous how the shopkeepers are charging so much for a packet that we usually buy for 10Rs and 20 Rs,” said one user.
Similar reports of unavailability and high prices were also received from other parts of the state. People took to Facebook and other social media platforms to highlight the struggles of tobacco users through memes, posts and photos of them ‘hunting’ for the tobacco products.


Ban on sale
It may be mentioned that along with prohibition of spitting in public, the Ministry of Home Affairs on April 14 also issued strict directives for ban on sale of liquor and tobacco in view of curbing the spread of COVID-19. 

Earlier, the Nagaland State government also banned spitting in public with effect from March 23. “The spitting of paan/tamul, sputum etc in public places and institutions is hereby banned with immediate effect," a notification from the Principal Secretary, Urban Development Department said.

According to one shopkeeper, the reason for the price rise has been the ban imposed by the government during the lockdown. Whatever is available with the wholesalers are the stock they had, and since demand is more than supply, they are selling it at prices above wholesale rates.

Another shopkeeper in Dimapur said that wholesalers sell tobacco products to them at prices above the usual rate. “They do not provide us the receipt on purchase of the tobacco products. I asked for receipt once and they told me that I can leave if I don’t want to buy without a receipt,” he said.

The shopkeeper went on to add that in the absence of receipts, he also cannot justify the high rates to his customers, so he has opted not to sell them altogether. But he is constantly pestered by his regular customers requesting him to sell the items.

One shop in Dimapur has even put up a “No Tobacco” sign to ward off customers who come searching for tobacco products.

But in most cases, due to the spike in demand, shopkeepers who manage to get their hands on the tobacco products are resorting to selling them at higher rates to customers who are willing to pay any amount for the same.


Customers speak
One customer in Dimapur revealed that he had to search in over 20 shops around his locality for a packet of gutkha. “It’s like looking for gold nowadays,” he said. Another user complained that betel leaves have gone up to Rs 10 per leaf. “Now one paan costs Rs 25! And that too is not available everyday!” he exclaimed in disbelief.

3 pieces of tamul now costs Rs 10 while cigarette cost has gone up to Rs 150 per packet in some localities, according to customers. “After lockdown, Shikhar, Talab etc has become like precious stones,” one user commented on Facebook.
“For someone like me who is a regular tobacco user, it is like an essential commodity,” said one user, adding that the price rise is a concern, but more worrying is the unavailability.

On being asked if they are aware of the ban on sale of tobacco products and spitting during the lockdown, some customers expressed ignorance while others said they are aware, but argued that it is available in some areas, and instead affecting the price of the products.

Meanwhile, the unavailability of tobacco products has also helped some users to cut down on their addiction. “It was available in some shops in my locality but the price was too high and I did not want to be paying such a hefty price, so I decided to cut down on consumption instead,” one user shared.

Another user said that the unavailability is helping him quit his addiction to tobacco. “Initially it was difficult, but nowadays I can go without chewing tobacco even once in a day,” she added.

The Dimapur district administration said that the sale of tobacco products is not permitted during the lockdown and that the district administration will look into the matter. Speaking to The Morung Express,Deputy Commissioner Dimapur Anoop Khinchi highlighted the government’s ban on spitting in public. It increases the dangers of the COVID-19 spread, and chewing tobacco increases the urge to spit. The DC reiterated that spitting in public is a punishable offense and advised the people to refrain from chewing tobacco and spitting in public for general hygiene and safety.