To Curtail Use, Higher Taxes on Tobacco Demanded

SRINAGAR: In the backdrop of J&K spending more on tobacco products than the national average, a health advocacy group has demanded higher tax rate on all tobacco products in the state to minimize its adverse impact on public health.

“JK’s monthly spending on smoking tobacco outstrips the national monthly expenditure averages. While nationally, smokers aged 15 and above spend Rs 399.20 a month on cigarettes and Rs 93.40 on bidis, those in J-K spend Rs 513.60 and Rs 134.20, respectively on these tobacco forms,” Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), quoting a Global Adult Tobacco Survey, (GATS) report said.

Interestingly, tobacco use imposes enormous health and economic burden on the people.

Each year, almost 1 million Indians die from tobacco-related diseases. The total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rupees 1.04 lakh Crore ($17 billion) in 2011 or 1.16% of the country’s GDP. Tobacco-attributable direct medical costs alone are around 21% of national health expenditure.

The costs of tobacco are far greater than what the Indian government/states gain in tobacco excise revenue (just 17% of total health cost). “It is well known that tobacco and tobacco products are globally recognized as ‘sin goods’ on account of their serious adverse impact on public health.

Practically all major countries in the world subject tobacco products to high rates of consumption taxes with a view to garner additional revenue on one hand and discourage its use on the other.

Higher taxes are particularly effective in reducing tobacco use among vulnerable populations, such as youth, pregnant women, low-income smokers and chewing tobacco users,” said Dr Rijo John, Assistant Professor, IIT Jodhpur, who is also an expert on tobacco taxation.

Importantly, the higher taxation on tobacco products will have a direct bearing on the consumption of tobacco products in JK as 26.6% population in the state is using tobacco product in one or the other of its form.

According to GATS report, Jammu & Kashmir has 12% cigarette smokers, 3.8% bidi smokers and 8.0% smokeless tobacco users. The state’s cigarette prevalence (12%) is almost double the nationwide prevalence of 5.7%. It has come to light that the highest proportion of adults (67.9%) exposed to tobacco smoke in offices are in J&K and the lowest (15.4%) are in Chandigarh.

“The new GST regime should ideally act as a deterrent to the consumption of health hazard causing substances such as Cigarettes, Bidis and other tobacco forms through higher taxes. All differentiations should be done away with regards to tobacco and tobacco products and these products should be taxed at the highest slab under GST, since lower GST rates would contribute to their affordability and end up promoting their increased consumption amongst most vulnerable sections of population pushing them below the poverty line,” Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, CEO, VHAI said.

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