On the eve of National Youth Day, several youth associations on Wednesday appealed to the prime minister and the finance minister to increase taxes on all tobacco products in the upcoming Budget for 2023-24. According to the youth groups, increasing excise duty on all tobacco products can be a very effective policy measure to address the immediate need to raise revenue by the central government.
It will be a winning proposition for generating revenue and reducing tobacco use and related diseases, they said. They also recommend that the revenue generated by tax hike be used to shift tobacco farmers to other crops, provide an alternative livelihood to bidi rollers, tobacco vendors and others who might be affected by the tax hike.
The appeal was made by more than 2,000 individuals and associations. Double Olympic medallist in badminton P V Sindhu said, "Tobacco use not only harms our health but it is also a threat to the health of our friends and family. Additionally, tobacco users also have a greater risk of developing severe cases of cancer. I urged the youth of India to break free from dependence on tobacco and stay healthy."
According to the associations, the Parliament Standing Committee on Health submitted a pertinent and comprehensive report on cancer care plan and management in which it undertook a detailed study of the causes of cancer in India and noted with concern that in India, "the highest number of lives lost is due to oral cancer caused by tobacco, followed by cancer of the lungs, oesophagus and stomach.”
The committee has noted that India has one of the lowest prices for tobacco products and there is a need to increase taxes on tobacco products. It also recommended the government to raise taxes on tobacco and utilise the additional revenue gained for cancer prevention and awareness.
Sharing her personal experience, Preethi, a student at MDD Bal Bhawan School, said, "Addiction to tobacco took away my dad when I was 12 years old. I understand the pain of losing a dear one to tobacco. Tobacco should be made so unaffordable that no one loses their family or dear ones to addiction.... Increasing taxes on tobacco products will make these killer products less affordable and fetch substantial revenue for the government."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), raising the price of tobacco products through tax increases is the most effective policy to reduce tobacco use. Higher tobacco prices that decrease affordability, encourage quitting among users, prevent initiation among non-users and reduce the quantity consumed among continuing users. The WHO recommends that share of excise tax for tobacco products should be increased to 75 per cent of retail price.
India has the second-largest number (268 million) of tobacco users in the world. Nearly 27 per cent of all cancers in India are due to tobacco. The recent Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS-2019) shows that nearly one-fifth of the students aged 13-15 years are consuming tobacco in some form. Also, in India, on an average, children as young as 10 years start tobacco consumption. The total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rs 1,82,000 crore which is nearly 1.8 per cent of India's GDP.