How we get high: These 9 charts reveal smoking and drinking habits of Indians

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySamarth Bansal and Roshan Kishore
Feb 20, 2018 10:15 AM IST

National Family and Health Survey data reveals how frequently Indians drink, what alcohol they prefer and more.

In India, men are high and women are sober. Statistics from the fourth round of National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) show that almost 45% of men consume tobacco in some form or another. Around 30% consume alcohol. The figures are just 7% and 1% for women.

Thirty per cent men consume alcohol while only 1% of women do, data from the fourth round of National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) shows.(Parveen Kumar/HT Archive)
Thirty per cent men consume alcohol while only 1% of women do, data from the fourth round of National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) shows.(Parveen Kumar/HT Archive)

Gender is not the only aspect. The survey reveals more: Do people smoke more bidis or cigarettes? What is the most preferred drink in India: whisky, beer or wine? How frequently do they drink? Does prohibition lead to significant reduction in alcohol consumption? How does wealth affect use of intoxicants in India? The survey has the answers.

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Contrary to what many would believe, rural areas have a greater share of men smoking and drinking. The focus is on men because they comprise the overwhelming majority of tobacco/alcohol users. Fifty per cent rural men consume tobacco in some form or the other. The figure is 40% for urban areas. The rural-urban divide is much smaller when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Cultural norms play an important role in determining both tobacco and alcohol consumption. Among major religions, Muslims have the lowest share of men who drink alcohol and Sikhs have the lowest share of those who consume tobacco in some form. Religious norms prohibit the consumption of alcohol and tobacco in Islam and Sikhism respectively.

Smoking and drinking is more common among the poor than the rich. The share of tobacco users for men in the poorest wealth quintile is more than double the value for the richest quintile. In case of alcohol consumption, the figure for poorest quintile is 40% more than the value for richest quintile.

Class plays an important role in determining the type of liquor people drink. Consumption of beer/wine/hard liquor increases with wealth. In the richest 20% segment, of men who drink, around 50% consume beer. The poor mostly consume tadi and country liquor.

That class — and not rural-urban domicile — affects type of alcohol consumed shows that rural India is well connected to the organised alcohol industry and does not depend only on indigenous/petty production methods for consuming liquor.

As is to be expected, share of bidi smokers is also higher among the poor. Bidi is more popular among the older cohorts in India.

NFHS statistics also confirm a common stereotype about smoking and drinking. Getting out of homes at a young age increases the chances of a person picking up the habit of tobacco/alcohol consumption. To calculate this, the male population has been segregated into three age groups – 15-18 years, 18-25 years and more than 25 years. Eighteen and 25 are the legal age for smoking and drinking in India.

In the 15-18 year old age group, the likelihood of those who stay out of their homes and drink is almost double compared to those who stay at home. This gap reduces with age. A similar pattern can be seen for tobacco use as well, although it is slightly lower in magnitude compared to alcohol.

Of men aged 15-54 who drink alcohol, 70% also consume some form of tobacco. Of those who don’t drink, just 35% do.

Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Telangana have the highest proportion of men who drink alcohol. Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat lie at the bottom. There is a regional pattern: cut India in two halves—higher proportion of men in the East drink as compared to the West.

45% of Indian men use tobacco in some form. Its consumption is highest in the north-eastern states. At least two in three men consume tobacco in Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. Among major states, Punjab has the lowest share of men consuming tobacco. Southern states also report relatively lower figures.

Also Read | From meat and fish to vegetables: These 9 charts show how India eats

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