Find A Leader
Join SFL's Network
Support SFL

WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) works with its signatory countries to reduce the ‘devastating health and economic impacts of tobacco.’ Its main policy tools include laws regarding, but not limited to, taxation, packaging, manufacturing and advertising of tobacco products. It is due to FCTC’s norms that India has 85% plain packaging of cigarette packs, and taxation on cigarettes now stands at 60% of the price.

At the COP6 in Moscow, WHO’s press release declared “the need for regulations along the lines of policies concerning other tobacco products, including banning or restricting promotion, advertising and sponsorship of ENDS.” At the COP7 conference that begins today, it will decide the fate of e-cigarettes.

I am convinced that this policy is not only extremely paternalistic, it is counterproductive to FCTC’s goal of improving public health.

Taxes invite black markets

High taxes also increase the incentive for producing illegal cigarettes completely outside the tax regime. In this case, cigarettes are produced in illegal, unregulated factories and sold on the black market.

Black market in India

Black markets don’t need complete prohibition to take hold. They emerge as soon as regulations artifically increase prices. A FICCI study confirms that high taxes and plain packaging have led to an over 90 per cent increase in the consumption of smuggled cigarettes in the last decade. As a result, the overall market for illegal cigarettes in India is now estimated at 22.8 per cent of the cigarette industry. The share of legally manufactured cigarettes in total tobacco consumption in India has declined from 21% in 1981-82 to 12%, according to the industry body Tobacco Institute of India (TII). During the same period, overall tobacco consumption increased by 42%. According to Euromonitor International, a renowned global research organisation, India is now the 4th largest illegal cigarette market in the world.

Taxes are ineffective, anyway

Taxation has been ineffective in deterring Indian people from smoking less. The policy of high-taxation has been a failure in at least a couple of ways.

First, despite a 1606% (for the shortest non-filter cigarettes) and 198% (for the shortest filter cigarettes) rise in taxes over 19 years, the number of cigarette smokers has risen. Cigarette smokers in India increased from 25 million to 46.4 million over 14 years (1996 to 2010), and per capita annual consumption of cIneffective Cigarette Taxesigarettes only declined marginally, from 101 to 96 cigarettes over the same period.

Second, many smokers respond to cigarette taxes in dangerous ways. A 5 year long study with 11,966 smokers suggested  that smokers switch to cigarettes that are higher in tar and nicotine. This allows them to get more tar and nicotine per cigarette smoked. The study concludes that “Cigarette excise taxes appear to have no effect on total tar consumption.” But because high-tar cigarettes pose a greater risk, this response undermines the goal of improving public health.

Lowering taxes can drive out illicit trade

Rather than reducing cigarette consumption, high taxes shift some consumption from the legal to the black market—that is, to smuggled and/or illegally produced cigarettes. The corollary of this is that tax cuts could drive out illicit trade without increasing overall cigarette consumption.

E-cigarettes are a benign alternative

Electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes) are battery-operated devices designed to deliver nicotine with flavorings and other chemicals to users in vapor instead of smoke. Vaping an e-cigerette doesn’t involve inhaling tar that is produced from a combustible cigarette. This makes vaping significantly safer than cigarettes, 95% safer according to Public Health, England.

Nanny State GraphicsMedia reports have fed the idea that e-cigs pose all sorts of dangers. In January 2015 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed toxic levels of formaldehyde could be produced by a high-powered vaporizer. The report also noted that no one would ever heat e-liquid to that temperature. Likewise, when a Harvard study showed the presence of the chemical diacetyl in 75% of e-liquids, there were headlines about e-cigs causing irreversible scarring of the lungs, despite the fact that diacetyl is present in extremely low doses. The toxic chemical is hundreds of times more plentiful in traditional cigarettes.

The WHO should back-track on vaping

WHO’s decision to regulate e-cigarettes in a similar fashion as combustible cigarettes is counterproductive to its mission of harm reduction. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that taxing cigarettes has proved ineffective in lowering the smoking rates. Vaping, however, offers a safer alternative to people who want to quit.

No one is suggesting that e-cigs are completely safe. They vaporize a liquid to deliver nicotine, which can interfere with brain development in young people, harm a developing fetus and pose risks to people with cardiovascular disease. E-cig vapour does contains a dozen or so of the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, but at very low levels.

Bringing e-cigarettes under similar laws as combustible cigarettes will keep people from quitting, which can potentially cut millions of lives shorter.

To learn more about how the Nanny State is reducing our choices and making us worse off in India, check out NannyState.in

Nanny State Header

In South Asia SFL, we realised that students who understand the philosophy of liberty are the most committed to SFL’s vision and values. Therefore in 2016-17, South Asia SFL has decided to focus on SFL’s education capability. We want to improve our academic support for the region to increase the effectiveness of the leadership and improve retention in SFL and the broader liberty movement. As a result, our trainings for this academic year includes a series of educational modules designed to deepen our student’s understanding of libertarian philosophy, economics, and law.

This year’s Local Coordinator Program will dedicate the first semester to a rigorous training in classical liberal thought involving a weekly readings along with online socratic-style discussion seminars and a research project. In the second semester, LCs will choose one of the four tracks – Communications, Academic Programs, Activism, or Events – to complete training and contribute to projects using the skills developed in their chosen responsibility area.

We are also utilizing Socratic Seminars by hosting SFL Colloquia in which students will participate in roundtable discussions with an expert on a specific theoretical or policy topic. An SFL Colloquium will be a day-long event in which around 15 students discuss a text read in advance to examine its meaning and implications following the socratic method of shared inquiry.


South Asia Executive Board 2016-17

We have also restructured the South Asia Executive Board, shifting away from the Regional Director model to one in which each member of the Board is responsible for a specific capability area across South Asia. This allows each member to specialise in his or her role, ensure accountability, and develop their professional skills.

These initiatives will allow us to have deeper engagement with our audience and bring more students from South Asia into the liberty-movement. If we can educate and inspire students to take up the cause of liberty, it will ensure the growth and success of SFL and the broader liberty-movement in South Asia.

The following blog post was written by SFL’s President, Alexander McCobin.

2015-2016 was both the most challenging and most inspiring year for Students For Liberty yet. In many ways, the tides of tyranny rose around the globe. At the same time, though, the student movement for liberty did not stand idly by. Over the course of the past year, SFL’s students and alumni took on a corrupt government in Brazil, personally provided relief for those in need from tragedies like the earthquake in Ecuador, and introduced more young people to the principles of economic, social, and intellectual freedom than ever before.

This is why I’m pleased to share with you SFL’s 2015-2016 Annual Report, which details how this past year was the biggest and most meaningful year of Students For Liberty to date. By the numbers, SFL continued to grow at an incredible pace:

Annual_report_excerpt.pngThat’s an 8% growth in student groups, 129% growth in leaders trained, 92% growth in conferences run, 120% growth in conference attendees, and 52% growth in media attention! These are incredible numbers. As I write in my final Letter from the President, the size and scope of Students For Liberty today is beyond anything we ever imagined when we started SFL almost a decade ago.

New Call-to-actionBeyond the numbers, every data point represents the story of a student who is learning about and standing up for liberty thanks to SFL. Take James Michel in Haiti for instance, whose story you can read about on page 14.

Jean Charles “James” Michel first joined SFL as a Charter Teams member in fall 2015 and, after completing Liberty 101, he quickly set to work recruiting for SFL Haiti. Facing obstacles like poor internet access and a hostile university administration, James met each challenge with grace and creativity. When the group found a restaurant willing to let them meet – but only on the condition that each member buy something – James bought juice for everyone present, knowing that some students couldn’t afford the cost. Today, the group has grown from four students to 20, has an active presence on Twitter, and even sent a few members to this year’s ISFLC.

This is the kind of dedication to that one can expect from all SFL leaders. This is the way the student movement for liberty is growing. This is how the student movement for liberty changes the world. This is the kind of story each number in the Annual Report represents.

As far as SFL and the student movement for liberty has come, there is much more for us to do. In the meantime, though, I want to thank you for being part of and supporting Students For Liberty. I hope you enjoy reading through the rest of the report and take pride in the growth of SFL and student movement for liberty.

2015-2016 was SFL’s best year yet. Together, we have high hopes for 2016-2017 being even greater. Here’s to a freer future!

Summer is here, exams are approaching and so are the deadlines for opportunities this summer!

There’s still time to..

  • Apply for SFL’s Local Coordinator Program – a platform for young liberals to meet other like-minded people, learn more about the philosophy of liberty and assume leadership positions in the global students’ movement for liberty! Early-bird deadline is 15th April and final deadline is 7th May.
  • Apply for Centre for Civil Society’s Researching Reality Internship 2016. This is an opportunity for college students and researchers who wish to apply social and economic principles to real-life problems through in-depth research projects. It will help you in gaining a deeper understanding of various government departments, and make recommendations for improvement. Apply before 1st May!
  • Join Free A Billion – Free A Billion is a bottom-up people’s mass movement that aims to revamp India’s operating system by creating a popular demand for a new set of rules. All confirmed interns and volunteers will undergo training on leadership, organising and action based on Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s programme on community organizing. Learn more about the opportunities here!

I hope you have a fruitful summer with these exciting opportunities!


Free speech is one of the fundamental building blocks of a free society. But lately, free speech and expression have been under consistent attack both on college campuses and more generally through invasive government policy. Over the past few years, college campuses — which were once hotbeds of free and open discussion — have become home to restrictive speech codes and aggressive tone policing.

In an uncomfortable and ironic chain of events, the generation of students that fought oppressive speech regulations in the 60s has joined the ranks of university administrators. They have turned their backs on the principles of free speech that they once so adamantly defended. Under their direction, college campuses that used to encourage top minds to intensely and vigorously debate all sides of an issue, have eroded into places of enforced conformity and mealy-mouthed politeness.

Students For Liberty is fighting back. From now until April 30th, student leaders like yourself can apply for a $250 reimbursement for any activism related to free speech and free expression. Apply now to make your campus a safe space for free speech!

Apply Now

11050129_10153106480730180_7117233136550493002_oAlmost nobody opposes liberty. But few understand what it means. As FA Hayek put it,

“Liberty is the state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others.”

It means that its possessor has the opportunity to act in accordance with his own decisions, rather than being subject to the will of another “who by arbitrary decision could coerce him to act or not act in a specific way.”

The philosophy of freedom insists that the use (or threat) of force should be limited to actions that violate someone’s physical property. This means, that as long as one’s actions are peaceful and associations are voluntary, the government has no business in deciding what one can and cannot be done.

By this rule, adult individuals have the freedom to eat, drink, pray or date in the way they want, because these are private, victimless actions. Similarly, entrepreneurs should be able to easily set up their businesses, and not have to waste months in time and thousands in money to get licenses. The government’s role should just be the administration of law and not a lot more.

Today, our governments are quite far from this ideal. They transfer massive amounts of wealth and resources to their cronies. State secured privileges protect businesses from innovations and competition. Regulations are written to favour big business in the guise of protecting the consumer and trade barriers restrict consumer choices. There are men in uniforms we have to approach for permission slips, fondly called ‘paperwork’ accompanied with lots of ‘chai-pani’. The police and courts are ineffective and corrupt and the law benefits the rich at the expense of the common man.

Because it’s a democratic system, we have forgotten to question the scope on which the government can decide for us. The state wants to be our nanny and decide if and when we can drink, party and marry someone we want. Any movie, painting, or book that challenges or offends popular conceptions of power structures like the State and religion are banned with one justification or another. And then there are bans on documentaries, live shows and movie clips that we supposedly just can’t handle.

Liberty entails respecting the life choice of others and taking responsibility of our own actions. It means treating other people not as if they are there to please us, but as equally important members of society. Entrepreneurs, artists, farmers, child labourers, Uber drivers, budget private schools, unemployed college graduates, displaced villagers, students, NGOs, environment, feminism, taxpayers and all groups, classes and sections can benefit from a more tolerant and free society.

We need a revised understanding of social problems and exposure to a narrative that’s different leaders-liberty-300x87from what is taught in our schools and state regulated universities. Join Students For Liberty’s global community of over 1800 student groups and take with us an intellectual journey that can change your world-view.

Be a part of the global movement for liberty with SFL’s Local Coordinator Program and do check out our resources in the Academy.

Apply Now!


The Indian media has been under much criticism for its coverage of the JNU row. Media trials, jingoism, flying hashtags and polarising speeches have come from news anchors who have sounded more like activists than objective reporters on this issue. Nissim Mannathukkaren has attributed much that is wrong with the industry to a ‘capitalist ethos’, a view that isn’t completely unfounded, but doesn’t go to the root of the problem.

The Bane Of A Corporatised Media

Capitalism, as Nissim uses the word, refers to either i) a rule – of the state – by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production) or ii) an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government.

His argument is that the media industry has strong links with the State and this nexus, which is characteristic of capitalist societies, is keeping people from thinking clearly about important issues. Media houses, like Fox News in the United States, consistently report false claims, yet remain at the top of the industry.

He talks about a hyper-reality created by “doctored videos, images and facts, or the primetime debate format” which perpetuates false narratives.

In a terrifying instance of the extent to which this hyperreality can be stretched, Fox claimed that there are Muslim only “no-go” zones in major European countries that are governed by the Shariah law, although the channel later apologised for the remarks. This whipping up of Islamophobia happened in the already tense atmosphere immediately after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris by Islamist terrorists.

This way, the media promotes “thoughtlessness” in a ‘free, democratic’ setting in the same way in which an authoritarian regime would achieve by nationalising the media.

A media that is steeped in capitalist ethos is in fact perfectly in sync with authoritarian values.

He sums up the problem saying,

..an increasingly corporatised television that monopolises airwaves, which are public property, and is inimical to everything that democracy stands for. A capitalist society does not allow the flourishing of an independent, non-profit media dedicated to the public cause.

Both jingoistic nationalism and capitalism thrive on paranoia and insecurity. A privatised media amplifies both.

Capitalism Is The Problem, Not Profit

It is quite a surprising that I agree with a bulk of his analysis of the problem and yet come to very different conclusions for what can solve it.

mediaWatchdogWhile the industry is led by ‘profits’, I would argue that the problem is with the form of markets in which these profits are made, and not with profits per se.

Deformed markets involve government granting privileges to corporations. This could be by raising entry barriers, imposing costs that an enterprise might not want to undertake, trade barriers, licensing etc. These processes are supported by the incumbents because they benefit from lesser competition. In such a deformed market, profits do not result from creating value for customers. They are the result of the market power that corporations hold.

Corporations engaging in practices like Fox News would have a hard time surviving in a freed market: a market free from state secured controls and privileges to the business class. They would have no incentive to play in the hands of politicians because politicians wouldn’t have any power to grant privileges. The industry would look radically less hierarchical, and media houses would have to face competition from young and small media houses.

Would this set the priorities of new channels in a way that Nissim would approve? We cannot know. But the kind of news a media house broadcasts cannot be based on your and my opinion. If my opinion mattered, I would probably ban the masala-entertainment genre of Bollywood movies! But it is these movies that allow the producers to support experimental and risky projects like ‘Margarita with a Straw’ and ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. It is probably the nature of the media industry too: maybe it needs entertainment news that sells to support the probing journalism we need!

We should support a system that allows anyone to do a no-nonsense brand of journalism and let viewers decide what they want to watch. Any attempt to define what is ‘good journalism’ by law is a policing that is likely to be corrupted very soon.

Even a false statement may be deemed to make a valuable contribution to public debate, since it brings about “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Mill, On Liberty

Private Property Is The Foundation of Free Speech

The most troubling issue with his analysis is the assault on private property. Nissim seems to be suggesting that the media’s job can be better done if it wasn’t privately owned. If this reading of his view is correct, I humbly disagree.

Without a private printing press, only those texts which were liked by the aristocracy were copied by hand and transmitted. People relied on the Church to read and interpret the Bible until the printing press published it in English. Now people could read it themselves! In response, the church and its allies in positions of power took steps to restrain this new free press. In fact, early copyright law arose from efforts to regulate the production of printers.

The Church had confined Galileo for challenging the Pope’s view that the Earth was at the center of the solar system. In the United States of America, the Comstock Act was used to jail Moses Herman for promoting birth control as a valid choice for women. Thus, the private printing press broke a monopoly and gave ‘heretical’ and ‘immoral’ thinkers a chance to put their ideas out to the public. If printers were not privately owned, how could this have happened?

As I had said at the beginning, Nissim rightly points to a ‘capitalist ethos’ as the problem plaguing our media. But his analysis falls short of identifying the root of the matter. Corporate power is deeply political in nature. Economic elites in any industry, just like media, rely on the tolerance and the active support of the State. If there is something we should oppose, it is the state granted economic privilege, not profits.

South Asia SFL wrapped up the 2016 Regional Conferences with events in Mumbai and Delhi. The conferences screened the documentary India Awakes and discussed topics like the legitimacy of bans in India, freedom of speech, recent economic history since the 1991 economic reforms, the role played by the constitution in the size of the government and much more! These weekend events were attended by over 120 students who left with more knowledge and enthusiasm to join the pro-liberty movement!



South Asia SFL organised regional conferences for over 200 students in Delhi and Hyderabad this month! We’re excited for the upcoming Mumbai Regional Conference on 7th February!

Executive Board member Abeed Khader was also featured on Liberty-News.us for his views supporting Uber in Kerala.

Bangladesh Students For Liberty organised their first Local Coordinator Retreat with Executive Board member Kritika Kumari. They are working with Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Bangladesh to grow SFL’s reach in major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong.


We are currently busy preparing for the upcoming Regional Conferences in Mumbai, Hyderabad and New Delhi.