The petty shops selling smokeless tobacco products along the Kerala-Karnataka border near here are reaping a windfall on account of the ban imposed by the state government on the sale of pan masala and its variants containing tobacco and nicotine.
The customers from the state allege that on certain brands of products, the shops charge more than ten-folds of the original price after the ban.
One packet of hans (a scented chewing tobacco brand), weighing 12 gm, which was being sold for `3 per packet before the ban, is being sold for `30 now.
Though the customers say that the shop owners in towns like Kutta and Bairakuppa near the Wayanad border charge ‘dizzying’ rates, they just cannot resist the impulse. “They charge huge rates. When we complain, they arrogantly say that they are not forcing us to buy,” said Rajkumar, a daily labourer.
However, he admits that he often makes up for the loss by smuggling. “Sometimes I buy 10 to 15 packets and sell them among my friends, charging `10 per packet. But, there are frequent surprise checking by the Excise personnel nowadays,” Rajkumar said.
According to the Excise Department officials, the ban imposed from May 22 in the state has increased the smuggling of such chewable products across the border from Karnataka into the district.
After the imposition of the ban, large quantities of tobacco products were being frequently seized at the three border check-posts in Bavali, Tholpetty and Muthanga. “It has become a fresh headache for us. This week we seized 2,700 packets of madhu and 330 packets of hans from two persons during our regular inspection.
Both of them were handed over to the police to register a case,” said an official at the Excise Checkpost, Tholpetty, near the Karnataka border. “If the quantity is insignificant, we seize the stuff and destroy it in front of the offender,” the official said. “A case against the proposed ban is still pending in the court. Stringent measures will be initiated if the court upholds a ruling in favour of the ban,” said state Food Safety Commissioner Biju Prabhakar.
The scenario is almost similar to that of 1996, when arrack was banned in the state by the then A K Antony government, said Anil Kumar who runs a hotel near the checkpost in Tholpetty.
“At least 10 new petty shops have cropped up on the other side of the border soon after the announcement of the ban. Being a remote border town, the authorities in Karnakata are not bothered to conduct inspections there,” said Anil Kumar.