Raise taxes on tobacco products; Budget the opportunity

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New Delhi, Feb 25 (UNI) Alarmed at the phenomenal rate at which tobacco consumption is growing in India, Civil society groups today asked Finance Minister P Chidambaram to raise taxes on tobacco products by at least 100 per cent in the coming Budget, which will not only curb the use of these lethal products but also provide the much needed resources for funding education.

The Groups have been lobbying with the government and political leaders for quite sometime and have stepped up their activities perceiving the Budget as an opportunity for taking a hard knock at its use and abuse.

For instance, the 'Avinash Society,' a constructive crusade against substance abuse in India, recently met Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and asked him to use his good offices to get the government into action.

They also communicated their concerns to Mr Chidambaram quoting empirical evidence and World Bank and WHO Reports to support their point--higher tobacco taxes are the most effective instruments of brining down tobacco use.

Describing tobacco consumption as the single largest cause of preventable deaths in the country, the Society said its usage causes an estimated 10 lakh deaths in the country, which is higher than the combined death toll due to AIDS/HIV, Tuberculosis and other epidemics put together.

Dr Harsh Bhalla, a Delhi-based physician and Hony General Secretary of Avinash Society, said there were nearly 329 million tobacco consumers (smokers and chewers) in India.

"We appreciate the government's stance in controlling tobacco through preventive measures and quit tobacco initiatives. However, tobacco consumption is increasing across both the rural as well as urban population," Dr Bhalla said.

He said India being a country with the largest 'young population" in the world with the largest number of people under 30; the youth's exposure to the risk arising out of tobacco dependence was a serious cause of concern which demands immediate intervention.

Dr Bhalla said the Word Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that raising taxes on these products was one of the most important ways of curtailing the tobacco consumption in any country.

Historically, Dr Bhalla said, in various countries price increase mechanisms have been successfully deployed to combat tobacco dependence, especially among the youth. Further, differential taxation measures depending upon the harm profile of the product validated through testing laboratories was the most appropriate taxation policy.

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