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More than 400 paan shop owners pledged their support towards achieving a drug-free society at a meeting with authorities this week.

They promised not to engage in the illegal trade of tobacco products and other controlled substances.

The black market for tobacco products is very much alive today. Like other establishments, some paan shops have cashed in as well.

To those involved in this illegal trade, the profit of the business seems to be worth the risks: hefty fines or even time behind bars.

While many of the paan shops pledged their cooperation, based on some of the suggestions and questions asked during the meeting, there is an indication that still, more than half a decade later, not all are convinced that the tobacco rules make sense.

One asked why local sales are disallowed when consumption is not.

The question reminds us of an important point that needs to be addressed.

It reminds us of the need to find out if restricting the supply of tobacco has caused demand to drop or lessen in the past few years. We are all aware of the basic law of economics which is if there is no demand, there would be no supply.

There is a need for studies to be carried out to see if the current black market is only serving those who were already smokers before the ban was enacted and if it has caused smokers and chewers to drop the habit.

We need to know if the ban has discouraged the youth from picking up the smoking habit or from chewing tobacco products.

Because if it has not, we need to reprioritise where our resources are placed. The police, already over stretched in many areas, have been targeting the supply lines for the past few years.

But if demand has remained stable or has grown, then resources need to be shifted to the root of the problem: bringing down demand through stronger awareness campaigns and other kinds of innovative means that touch base with those who use tobacco products and those likely to begin using it.

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