Reduction in tax on cigarettes and cigars against public health interest

The UP government decision to reduce VAT on cigarettes and cigars from the existing 50% levels to 25% is against the public health interest. According to WHO, increasing the price of tobacco through higher taxes is the single most effective way to decrease consumption and encourage tobacco users to quit, which will directly reduce the rates of major non-communicable killers such as heart disease and stroke, cancers, and other life-threatening diseases and disabilities attributed to tobacco use. This was a clear message coming out of Vote For Health session held at Dabble College, Lucknow.

The government action of reducing taxation on cigarettes and cigars will lose the gains made in public health. This same government had manage to increase the VAT from 17.5% to 50% in July 2012 to restrict the consumption of tobacco related products but now has reduced VAT by half under the immense pressure of tobacco lobby.  According to WHO, a 70% increase in the price of tobacco could prevent up to a quarter of all smoking-related deaths. We appeal the UP Government to calculate the negative outcome of reducing VAT by 50% on cigarettes and cigars in terms of increase in tobacco related diseases, disabilities and deaths in UP. A tax increase also directly benefits governments through increased revenues, which can be used for tobacco control and other important health and social programmes. We appeal to the state government to increase taxation on all tobacco and alcohol products, prioritise public health, help in reducing number of children and youth who initiate tobacco use, help in indirectly reducing rates of heart disease, stroke and cancers, and collect more revenue that can be used for development.

Another speaker Dr Shivani Sharma, dental surgeon and Director of One Stop Smile Shop, has dedicated the month of May to raise awareness about oral health and tobacco hazards. Dr Shivani Sharma said that apart from oral cancer, the various ingredients in the various existing forms of chewable tobacco can cause a host of other diseases. They act as abrasives which erode the tooth enamel leading to hypersensitivity; a wad of tobacco kept in the mouth over long period damages the periodontal tissues which, over a period of time, can damage the supporting bones; constant irritation may lead to injury of gums and subsequent recession leading to hypersensitivity to hot and cold. Compromised periodontal health in due course of time leads to loosening of the teeth and eventually their permanent loss.

Dental Surgeon Dr Shivani Sharma added that the manufacturers add sugar to the various chewable products of tobacco in order to improve the taste. This sugar content acts as a substrate for the naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth leading to acid production which in turn leads to tooth decay. Long term use of tobacco leads to staining of teeth and tongue and results in bad breath. Tobacco consumption also alters our taste and smell sensations. It has been seen that habitual tobacco users start consuming more salt and sugar-- excess of both of which is harmful for the body.

Rahul Kumar Dwivedi, Coordinator, Vote For Health campaign, appealed to the students to participate in the forthcoming Rights and Responsibilities Summer Training Camp 2013.

Citizen News Service - CNS
May 2013