Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tobacco as a Cosmetic!

Tobacco as a Cosmetic!

The name tobacco has become almost an anathema now-a-days. The cigarette, smoking of which had almost assumed a status symbol has now to be indulged in when nobody is looking on and that too pull up a few, quick smokes and ward of the evil smoke. This was also so initially for it was bad manners to smoke in the presence of the seniors. I remember my visit to a village head, a senor man who had fallen on evil days. His two junior brothers were sitting by. Suddenly one junior brother asked the elder to look the other way. Thinking that he was pointing out to something interesting I also turned my eyes in the same direction but did not find anything noteworthy. When I brought my eyes to the original position I found the two juniors having a smoke and the senior’s eyes still turned away. It was apparently an attempt to keep up appearances of honouring the elders.

I was associated with tobacco in my career not as a smoker but as a revenue officer collecting taxes on the produce. The proposal for levy of tax on tobacco was first mooted in 1924 but each succeeding Finance Minister has tried to avoid going in for it. The popular phrase going round the finance ministries at the time was NIMTOL(Not in my time, O Lord). The imposition and collection of a tax on tobaccowhich was the first unmanufactured product to be taxcd was a challenge and no finance minister dared to risk his reputation by resorting to the levy. However, will-nilly the government was forced to it during 1942 , in the middle of the WWII years. The fears of the finance ministers were not misplaced. To build up a record of tobacco grown and ensuring that it reaches the market and pays the tax before it goes into consumption was indeed a difficult job. As a field officer I was never sure that I have registered all tobacco growers spread over the villages and that the produce had reached the market from where it went into consumption after payment of the duty due.We were strictly advised that our interest in registering the crops was only statistical in nature but as usually happens this statistical interest deteriorated into an instrument of harassment of the farmers. The inevitable effect was that cultivation of tobacco went down. I remember that in the Marathwada the banks of the river in the Gangakhed Taluka were always green with tobacco cultivation but soon they disappeared and replaced by other crops having no tax implications. The abrupt abolition of this tax by Mr..Charansingh ,the then Prime Minister for ‘Aut Ghataka’ did free the farmer from the ‘statistical interest’ of government but in any case the consumption of tobacco has progressively tended to come down what with the adverse health effect, the looking down upon chewing of tobacco(and spitting all over) and the smoking of the deshi biris Cigarette smoking remained in the upper echelons of the society as it always was and its smoking taken up largely by some under the fond impression that they looked like members of that society had also tended to come down. The prohibition of cigarette advertisements and looking down upon showing smoking scenes in pictures has further helped to wean away the smokers. The smoking of cigarette ,especially by girls was at one time taken as a sign of social liberation but even this has tended to come down. Even a matinee idol like SRK has been openly criticised for stubbornly pulling at it. There are also suggestions of making the No Smoking messages on the cigarette packets more aggressive than just tame suggestion ‘Smoking in injurious to health’ are also in the air(Hope they do not end into to make)

While this is happening for the greatest good of the greatest numbers a better way is to find alternative uses of tobacco for tobacco is still a significant produce of India. As the smoking ban is there almost the world over the prospect of finding out export market for tobacco are not very encouraging. However, alternatives and more constructive uses for tobacco could be found. Scientists have made a beginning in this direction from Israel. They have developed a substance from the plant that they claim could be used for, of all things, beauty enhancement. So far smoking of cigarettes the way Rajnikant does was considered an inimitable way to attract attention but no, the scientists have found out a way to use it as a beauty product as it is. Prof. Oded Shoseyov of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has succeeded in producing from tobacco plants a replica of human collagen—the main protein in skin,tendons,bone,cartilage and connective tissues. As we grow old this protein declines ,showing the effect in wrinkles that set in. Of course there are a number of beauty products which claim to help us to hide them but the new synthetic collagen which is currently being marketed for medical purposes such as bone and heart repairs may someday be used cosmetically.Then perhaps the use of tobacco by women will not be looked down upon.

Hope we are also undertaking such research in our universities. It will help protect the undulating tobacco fields. In any case initially tobacco cultivation had been undertaken in India (coming from America via Britain) was essentially for improving the quality of the soil. It had little, if any, commercial aspect. Fields used to be alternated between tobacco and grain crops, which ensured high yields. The cultivation of tobacco by itself had no marketing implications. With the demand for tobacco going down on account of the sustained campaign against smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption the discovery of an alternative and constructive use for tobacco may help the sagging tobacco plants in the fields.

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