Taxing Tobacco

India since the GST imposition has been taxing tobacco products at 28%, which is very low as compared to other countries. An increase in taxes, strict enforcement of laws that prohibit smoking in public places and adopting a license system for tobacco product vendors would help in preventing people from starting tobacco use

Haris Rashid

J&K currently ranks 6th among Indian states and UTs in percentage of tobacco smokers. Despite almost everyone being aware of the harms and illness caused by tobacco consumption, a large portion of the population uses tobacco products. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS-2) 2016-17, 39.7 % of men, 6.2% of women and 23.7% of all adults in Jammu and Kashmir use tobacco (19.4% are smokers only, 2.9% use smokeless only tobacco and 1.4% use both). GATS is conducted as a household survey of persons aged 15 years and above. The survey further reports that 91.5% of adults in J&K believe smoking causes serious illness. It also notes that 68.3% of adults came across ads about the dangers of smoking on television or radio.  Further, 56.1% of smokers were planning or thinking about quitting. Also, among the daily tobacco users, 12.1% had initiated tobacco use when they were below the age of 15 while 35.6% had initiated at the age of 15-17. Regarding second hand smoke in J&K, 73.3% of adults were exposed to tobacco smoke at home, 57.5% were exposed at the workplace, 23.7% were exposed in public transportation, 11.3% were exposed at government buildings and 35.3% at any public place. J&K has the highest exposure to tobacco at the workplace among all the Indian states and UTs.

From the above-cited data, four things can be interpreted: (I) Almost everyone is aware of the dangers of tobacco use and there is a high penetration of anti-smoking ads through mass media. (II) More than half of smokers want to quit. (III) A substantial number of people start tobacco use in their childhood. (IV) There is nothing preventing people from smoking in public places, including public transport and government buildings.

Based on these four points and keeping in view the current government policies on tobacco control, this article argues that in order to control tobacco consumption, the government and other organizations working towards tobacco use control must focus on interventions to prevent people from initiating tobacco use, disincentivize tobacco consumption by current users by making the products less affordable while also making assistance accessible to those consumers who want to quit. This can be done by (1) increasing tax on tobacco products every year until they become a luxury (2) strictly enforcing laws that prohibit smoking in public places (3) having exclusive shops/kiosks for the sale of tobacco products with mandatory licensing from the government.

India currently has a law in the form of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA) that regulates trade and commerce in and production, supply and distribution of tobacco products in India. The Act is complemented by the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) that seeks to create awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco consumption and to ensure effective implementation of the provisions under COTPA, 2003.  COTPA-2003 includes; Section 4: Prohibition of smoking in public places; Section 5: Prohibition of advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco products; Section 6a: Prohibition of sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products to anyone below the age of 18 years; Section 6b: Prohibition of sale of tobacco products near educational institutions and Section 7: Ban on sale of tobacco product without pack warnings. Also, in 2015, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, in partnership with World Health Organization and the International Telecommunications Union, started the mCessation Programme- an initiative for utilizing mobile technology for tobacco cessation by supporting tobacco users towards successful quitting through constant text messaging on mobile phones.

An increase in taxes is considered as the best intervention to control tobacco use. It directly affects current consumers and prevents others from starting tobacco use. Before GST, the J&K government would charge 40% sales tax on tobacco products and according to an IndiaSpend report, among all other things including automobiles and electronic devices, tobacco products would fetch the state sales tax department its highest revenue. However, currently, India has a low taxation rate on tobacco products- 28 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the additional cess charged by the centre. According to the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard, India scored 1.88 out of 5 in terms of the tobacco tax burden as against the global average of 2.07. There is a need to commit to a minimum annual increase in taxes on tobacco products. New Zealand has been increasing the tobacco excise by CPI+10% annually (CPI is Consumer Price Index) since 2010. Data available shows that there has been a significant drop in smoking and other tobacco product use in the country after the tax increase started.

Even though smoking in public places is prohibited and is a punishable offence, authorized persons responsible for taking action as per COTPA do not seem to care as is evident from the above data regarding exposure to passive smoking. The huge number of people getting exposed to second hand smoking at hospitals and government buildings is a cause of concern.  In order to protect non-smokers from second hand smoking, the government must ensure that authorized persons, including Sarpanchs and health officials, take action under their jurisdiction. Further, rules that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors and the rules that prohibit the sale of tobacco products around educational institutions must be enforced strictly by the authorized persons.

There is also a need to have exclusive shops/kiosks for the sale of tobacco products and making licensing from municipalities and Panchayats mandatory for them. In a recent report, titled “Framework for Implementation of Tobacco Vendor Licensing in India”, submitted by the National Law School of India University to the Union Health Ministry early this year, it has been recommended that licensing system be adopted for the sale of tobacco products and these licensed vendors must sell tobacco products exclusively. The licensing system will make effective control of tobacco products possible by reducing the number of shops and making tobacco products inaccessible to minors.

Tobacco use is one of the major causes of preventable diseases and deaths in India and across the world. Every day, 3700 deaths (approximately) occur in India due to tobacco use. Government must take proactive steps and enforce the laws strictly to prevent our children and youth from starting tobacco use.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 


  • The author is a student at Ashoka University 

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