Consortium for Tobacco Free Karnataka (CFTFK) and Karnataka NO for Tobacco (KNOT), a coalition working on cancer prevention, youth protection and tobacco control, on Monday urged Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to hike taxes on all tobacco products in the 2023 union budget.
They have also sent representation letters to the Members of Parliament from Karnataka urging them to take steps to increase the tax on tobacco products like cigarettes, bidis and chewing tobacco.
According to them, hiking tax is needed to reduce its affordability among the youth, who are the main target of tobacco companies.
They recalled that the government has not hiked tax on tobacco products ever since the GST regime in 2017. The present GST rates combined with the compensation cess for all tobacco products is far below the recommended level of the tax burden (taxes as a percentage of final tax inclusive of the retail price) of 75 per cent by the WHO (World Health Organization).
The total tax burden is currently only about 53 per cent for cigarettes, 22 per cent for bidis and 60 per cent for smokeless tobacco.
"We recommend the union government to hike tax on tobacco products in the budget 2023-24 as tobacco products have become more affordable over the years.
This is one of the most powerful yet under-utilized tools to control tobacco usage. When the taxes are tripled, revenue can be doubled and tobacco consumption can be halved.A This is a great opportunity to levy additional tax on tobacco to make it less affordable and reduce consumption" said renowned Oncologist Dr Vishal Rao, who is also a member of the Karnataka government's High-Power Committee for Tobacco Control.
"Ever since the GST regime, there hasn't been any significant hike in the tobacco tax. In budget 2022-23, the Government could have raised the excise duty on tobacco products and used the additional revenue to improve public health and build an alternative livelihood for people dependent on tobacco.
To keep youngsters and the vulnerable away from tobacco, a tax hike on tobacco is very much needed. So we request the government to hike the tobacco tax" said a well-known economist and former director of the Institute of Social and Economic Change Prof R S Deshpande.
"Recent Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare report- Cancer Care Plan and Management: Prevention, Diagnosis, Research and Affordability of Cancer Treatmenta observed that tobacco is a major risk factor for cancer and said that nearly 50 per cent of all cancers in India are due to tobacco.
The committee was convinced of the fact that tobacco use is initiated in teenage when teenagers are not yet mature to take rational decision-making and insisted on disincentivising tobacco.
The report also said the cost of tobacco products in India is the lowest, therefore it recommended an increase of tax on all tobacco products as it not only prevents easy initiation but also the additional revenue generated as tax could be used for preventive programs", said AS J Chander, Convenor of Consortium for Tobacco Free Karnataka.