Tax on cigarette, colas can prevent many premature deaths in India

Imposing steep taxes on cigarettes and colas may prevent premature deaths of millions of Indians, according to new research that exposes health risks behind glitzy advertisement campaign put out by the corporate world.

Smoking being the biggest cause of premature death from chronic disease, doubling of cigarette prices may prevent over 300,000 deaths a year among under-70 population in India, says a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.

Tobacco kills 10 lakh Indians every year of which half of them are below 70 years.

Worldwide, the governments have agreed on a UN target of reducing smoking by a third by 2025.

“If the government doubles excise tax, it will narrow the price gap between the cheapest and costliest cigarettes in the market. Present taxation allows low-priced cigarettes to stay providing an option to the users to switch from one brand to another. If the price of a pack goes up to Rs 90-100 from Rs 40-50, it would deter the smokers,” Prabhat Jha, a researcher at the University of Toronto and one of the authors of the NEJM review, told Deccan Herald.

“A higher tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and to deter future smokers,” Jha said. Though Finance Minister P Chidambaram raised the excise duty on cigarettes by 18 per cent, he said the government should go even higher. Taxation could counter the impacts of advertisement and promotion on tobacco products. Data collected by Jha and his colleagues suggest cigarette smoking among Indians, aged 15-69 years, doubled between 1999 and 2010 whereas consumption of bidis decreased by 15 per cent in the same period. “In India, manufactured cigarettes are displacing bidis,” Jha said.

Another group of public health researchers from India and the US advised imposition of a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax that could help mitigate the rise in obesity and diabetes in India among both urban and rural populations.

In a study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers from from Stanford University and Public Health Foundation of India estimated that 20 per cent SSB tax across India could avert 11.2 million cases of obesity and 400,000 cases of diabetes between 2014 and 2023, based on the current rate of sales hike.

If soft drink sales were to increase more steeply than the current rate, as predicted by the cola industry marketing models, the researchers estimate the tax could avert 15.8 million cases of obesity and 600,000 cases of diabetes.

Young rural men will be the biggest beneficiary of such a tax, suggests the new research negating a presumption taxing colas may benefit only the urban population.

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