Neighbours outdo India in tobacco control, says WHO

Three of India’s next door neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — adopted better tobacco control strategies to curb  deaths caused by tobacco, according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report released on Tuesday.

In Bangladesh and Pakistan cigarettes became less affordable for public between 2008 and 2014. India, on the other hand, is among a few countries where more people can afford to buy the deadly white sticks.

Tobacco kills approximately 60 lakh people annually in the world, 20 per cent of which – about 12 lakh – live in the South East Asia region, which accounts for 25 per cent of the world’s smokers (24.6 crore) and almost 90 per cent of smokeless tobacco (29 crore) users.Previous studies demonstrated that tobacco kills more than 10 lakh Indians every year and the number is rising.

While tobacco taxation has been found as the most efficient way to deter smokers, WHO said the bulk of the Indian bidi industry remains outside the tax net.

“In India, taxes are levied on bidis made by larger producers but not by small producers; as a result, bidi production in India has largely remained a small-scale cottage industry,” says the 2015 WHO report on Tuesday. Bangladesh is among the seven countries that have raised taxes — over 75 per cent of the retail price of a pack of cigarettes. It is followed closely by Sri Lanka with 70 per cent.

 In comparison, cigarette tax is just above 60 per cent in India. “The governments need to tax all tobacco products in a manner that people do not opt out of one expensive product to a less expensive one. Currently, governments are levying much less tax on smokeless tobacco and regulations do not cover all aspects of smokeless tobacco, which is the main cause of oral cancer in the region,” world body said.

 In 2013, Pakistan replaced a complex, three-tier cigarette excise tax system with a simpler two-tier specific tax structure. While in dollar terms, a pack of cigarette costs marginally higher than what it costs in India, WHO also took into account common man’s purchasing ability because of the economic growth, before determining if cigarettes are affordable. India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam are the countries where cigarettes are more affordable to people in 2014 compared to the 2008 scenario whereas Ukraine, Brazil, Russia, Poland, Turkey and Pakistan are among the countries where they are less affordable.

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