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The nanny state has designs on the paan shop

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-10-2017 Ravi Ananthanarayanan

‘Paan plus’ is how consumer companies describe shops that sell more than just tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and paan (betel leaf) of course.

They also sell confectionery, biscuits, shampoo sachets, chips, noodles, and anything that is an impulse purchase.

They did (and perhaps still do) useful tasks such as breaking packets of double-edged safety razor blades and selling them individually.

You may not see them in the newly developed parts of metros but they can be found in the older parts and in smaller cities and towns.

The central government seems to think that these shops are a danger, as children may buy chips and chocolates from them and then get tempted into trying out the tobacco products.

The central government has asked the states to make it mandatory for tobacco shops to get registered and then prevent them from selling non-tobacco products.

The state’s prerogative to control tobacco is one thing, but if the livelihood of farmers can be brought up to scuttle proposals, then the livelihood of these small shop retailers should be no less important.

What they provide is convenience, generate additional income and their intention is certainly not to get children to smoke.

The government is running the risk of becoming a nanny state that seeks to unnecessarily control more and more aspects of citizens’ lives.

It is illegal to sell tobacco products to those below 18 years.

If that policy is not working, does it make sense to bring another one, which will probably open a new chapter in local level corruption?

If the idea is to keep children safe from exposure to the sight of signage or cigarette packs that can pique their curiosity and make them experiment, then maybe that part can be regulated.

Tobacco products can be kept out of sight; while regulars will anyway know shop locations and what they are looking for.

That would be a more benign way of protecting children although it may still hurt business.

If the government still pushes ahead with this proposal, it will become a new nightmare for consumer product companies.

Of the total 10 million or so outlets selling fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), 25% fall in this category, according to Abneesh Roy of Edelweiss Securities.

Paan and tobacco stores contribute to 7% of total FMCG sales, according to data shared by Nielsen India Pvt. Ltd, and this channel’s sales grew on a par with industry growth.

If banned, it will leave a hole in the industry’s sales.

Part of it can move to neighbouring stores in well-served locations in metros, but it may hit sales in other places.

Sales of impulse purchase items, in particular, could get affected.

The sooner this wholly unnecessary proposal is junked, the better.

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