The blanket ban on pan masala and continuing vigil by enforcement agencies seem to have little effect on curbing the sale of tobacco-based chewable products in Ernakulam district.
Officials with the State police department admit to a flourishing sale of banned tobacco products, although in a hush-hush manner, through a network of petty shops.
“The ban has indeed proved to be a blessing in disguise for them, as the business ensures a minimum of 200% profit. Hence, people have no qualms in selling tobacco-based products despite a strict ban on their manufacture, storage, transportation, and sale,” said a senior police officer.
For instance, the Kochi City Police reported 2,360 cases under COTPA (Cigerattes and Other Tobacco Products Act-2003) in the first six months of the ongoing year, fetching a revenue of over Rs. 4 lakh to the State exchequer. The Ernakulam Rural police, however, recorded only around 1,000, while the revenue realised also stood correspondingly low.
Last year, Ernakulam had realised close to Rs. 40 lakh in terms of fine, and the overall fine collected stood at a whopping Rs. 56 lakh.
Officials said pan masala products had been finding their way into Kerala mainly by inter-State trucks and trains.
The products, stored at godowns near the Kerala border, are then trafficked to the State by keeping them concealed in special cavities.
The police had recently zeroed in on a few rackets from north Kerala specialising in pan masala sale.
“Considering the huge volume of profit involved in the business, smugglers have been resorting to several ingenious methods of transportation, and hence it is almost impossible for us to check the flow without prior information,” they maintained.