You drink/smoke/chew, you lose

“You can burn down your house smoking”. “You can drink your dreams away”. The fact that addiction is bad for financial balance is well known. But that it can be economically devastating for the average Indian was somewhat of an eye-opener for us. This topic struck our curiosity when we realized that it was virtually impossible for us to have even one drink without seriously affecting our daily budget. To get a better picture of the situation, we interviewed a couple of pan walas (the road side tobacco and pan sellers) and also visited couple of suburban liquor stores. You can see a video interview here. The following is a summary of what we learned:

1. A Katta of Bidi (pack of local 24 cigarettes): Cost Rs. 10; average consumption is 1 – 2 kattas per day.

2. A Gutka or a small packet of chewing tobacco costs Rs. 2 – 4 per packet; Average consumption is 10 – 15 packets per day.

3. A standard “Quarter” bottle of the cheapest alcohol at the liquor store: 180ml. Cost Rs. 45 – 50; Average consumption is 1 bottle (daily for some, weekly or bi-weekly for others).

Using these numbers, we ran the following sensitivity analyses on the possible scenarios for the total spend on addiction related expenses:

It appears that in the average case scenario, an addicted person spends anywhere between Rs. 30 and Rs. 50 on tobacco linked expenses. (This matches the figures guessed by the pan wala in the video interview). If the person were to add a Quarter bottle of liquor to it, it would  mean anywhere from Rs. 70 – 100 spent on booze and smoke. With Rs. 100 as the total budget, this would have serious implications on the money left for essential expenses. Below is the same sensitivity analysis run for the income minus the addiction expenses:

Given that we both are struggling at Rs. 100 a day for all of our expenses, a Rs. 60 income (and God help you if your income is Rs. 15!) will hardly be sustainable. In the Rs. 60 case, the person will likely have to eat into resources meant for the spouse or children or parents. This fact is particularly exaggerated when under serious cases of addiction, represented by the bottom right corner of the 4th table above: the income turns negative, which means that the alcohol/tobacco habit needs more income than a person can earn in a day!

Particularly worrisome is the sensitivity of the ex-addiction income to number of gutka packets consumed. It is likely that gutka consumption is higher than bidi consumption for a couple of reasons – it has a lower social cost – no “passive” smoking problems – and it can be abused while doing any other activity. The gutka habit chews into the wallet (pun intended!) significantly. On the right are charts representing a particular scenario from the tables above.

Of course, our addiction costs don’t include the additional expenses one may have to undergo for likely treatment of mouth or lung cancer in the future or the accidents one could get into while under the influence. It certainly doesn’t take into consideration the loss of productivity due to any hangovers or due to extra money gambled away while drunk. Moreover, it doesn’t incorporate the psychological toll on an addict’s family, who has to undergo the associated troubles and bail the addict out every evening.

Our analysis is by no means comprehensive. But no matter which way you look at it, one thing is clear: as an average Indian, if you are addicted, not only will your burn (or chew) your house down and drink your dreams away, you will also do the same to your family’s!


2 Responses to “You drink/smoke/chew, you lose”

  1. These 10 people in the following link also live without money for years

    . Mog (Love) Asundi (Remain) (means LET LOVE REMAIN in konkani language)


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