New Delhi: Economists and public health experts have welcomed the duty hike on cigarettes in this year’s budget and pitched for higher taxes on more tobacco products to make them unaffordable and India tobacco-free in “Amrit Kaal“. The hike in national calamity contingent duty on cigarettes by 16 per cent clearly shows the government’s intent to further strengthen the tobacco control policy and levy higher tax on “sin” products that claim more than 13 lakh lives in the country every year, noted economist and BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal said.
Participating in a discussion on “Amrit Kaal: A Journey towards Tobacco-Free India,” organised by Tobacco Free India, a citizen group platform, Agarwal said a hike in prices on such harmful products through tax policy is the most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption.
“This can be done by implementing ‘triple A’ concept: cutting down ‘affordability’ and ‘availability’ of tobacco items by hiking tax while making people ‘aware’ of its harmful impact,” he said.
“The total tax burden is currently about 53 per cent for cigarettes, 22 per cent for bidis and 60 per cent for smokeless tobacco. This shows that there is enough scope to enhance tax that will not have much impact on the earnings of the industry but will certainly help cut down tobacco consumption. Revenue earned through taxation can be invested for providing alternative jobs to poor and tribal people associated in tobacco-related business,” he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a uniform tax of at least 75 per cent for each tobacco product, he noted, adding that a parliamentary committee in its recent report too has highlighted that the existing tax on tobacco products is not enough.
Currently 28 per cent of the adult population of the country is using tobacco products and its economic burden on health is to the tune of Rs 1,77,341 crore, which is one per cent of India’s GDP. “This is worrisome,” he said.
Participating in the webinar, Dr Uma Kumar, public health expert and Head of the Department of Rheumatology, AIIMS, Delhi, too welcomed the increase in duty on cigarettes as she presented disturbing status of the growing number of diseases linked with tobacco and its health burden on households and the economy.
Tobacco is one of the most prominent risk factors associated with cancer as well many other diseases such as respiratory, stroke and heart attacks.
Lamenting that affected families not only face the loss of their loved ones but are also drained financially, emotionally and mentally, she said that proposed amendments to the tobacco-control law COTPA by the central government should be implemented with immediate effect.
Dr Rahul Bhargava, Director of Haematology and Stem Cell Transplant at Fortis Hospital, Gurugram, termed the increase in duty on cigarettes an “exemplary measure” and hoped that taxes on all the tobacco products will be hiked in the next GST Council meeting in agreement with the states. “The idea is to make these sin products unaffordable to the people and save their lives.”
Expressing concern that designated smoking zones at airports, hotel and restaurants were a major cause for second hand smoking, the public health expert batted for hundred per cent smoke free areas.
Dr Rambha Pandey, Radiation Oncologist at AIIMS-Delhi, echoed similar views as she expressed her concern at the rising consumption of tobacco among people, particularly children in the age group of 9-15 years.
“This is the age when we as elders and policy makers should help the adolescents focus on their health and education but unfortunately many of them are getting addicted to the deadly tobacco and by the time they realise their mistakes it is too late for them as well as us,” Dr Pandey said.