Tendu leaves drying in the sun. The constant discovery of tendu leaves floating off Sri Lankan waters and the volumes concerned should alert authorities to the economic, health and security risks posed to the nation and its public from the trade
By Jeewa Siriwardena
The discovery of another stock of tendu (beedi) leaves floating off the seas off Thalaimannar further highlights a health, safety and security concern that seldom receives the attention it should. This week, over 70 kilograms of tendu were found off the coast, whilst over 1,800 kilograms were discovered by the Navy earlier in March and July this year.
As discussed in a report published by the Social Development Network (SDN), the organisation called for greater regulation and control over the beedi industry to control smuggling, and primarily to combat incidence of under-aged smoking. Publishing its research findings, SDN found that over 8,000 families in Sri Lanka are engaged in rolling beedis, whilst the Department of Customs admitted that it pays little attention to the informal flow of tendu leaves into the country.
The discovery of large stocks of tendu leaves off the waters of northern Sri Lanka during this year and the last provides ample evidence that the situation has likely exacerbated. The 1,870 kilograms of tendu leaves discovered during the three hauls in question alone would produce 6.1 million sticks of beedi sticks had they reached shore. The Navy and security agencies must be lauded for their efforts to detect and detail such illegal shipments. However, with a market of over 2.5 billion sticks, there is no doubt a significant amount of tendu that still reaches the island illegally.
The lack of governance and control on the beedi industry and its points of sale is of concern. SDN encountered retailers admitting selling beedis to minors. At just Rs. 5 a stick and no monitoring by authorities, beedis are easily accessible to students who want to have their first taste of smoking. This alongside adult smoking has significant impacts on public health, which often falls under the radar. SDN, an organisation that works towards the empowerment of women and children’s rights, asserts that greater attention must also be paid on women involved in the beedi trade and the question of family labour involving children in the tobacco trade.
The constant discovery of tendu leaves floating off Sri Lankan waters and the volumes concerned should alert authorities to the economic, health and security risks posed to the nation and its public from the trade. The beedi industry is worth over Rs. 12.5 billion at the point-of-sale, and presents significant potential for revenue to government. Evidently, only very small volumes of tendu leaves reach the country via formal channels, and the cess imposed on imports offer very little revenue and represent the real extent of the trade.
Accordingly, the recommendations listed by SDN in its report would become relevant to control the problem. These included bringing beedi under the same stringent regulation as cigarettes at the point-of-sale to prevent ease-of-access to minors, consider revised levies and pricing to make beedis less affordable to minors, create a formal database of beedi manufacturers and sub-contractors and accordance to employee and product health and safety standards and governance surrounding employment of children as family-labour. A tax at the point of sale would address a large number of revenue and health issues.