50% jump in cigarette prices proposed to save millions in India

50% jump in cigarette prices proposed to save millions in India

A 50% jump in cigarette prices can lead to saving 45 million years of life in India, a group of economists and public health researchers has claimed.

Studying the cigarette consumption pattern of 490 million men in 13 middle-income countries, including India, they found  that Indians on low incomes would not only gain many extra years to live from a steep rise in cigarette price but they also were saved from catastrophic health consequences that generally lead to very high expenditure.

Based on the current pattern, smoking will be responsible for about one billion deaths in the 21st century, most of which will be in low and middle-income countries such as India.

Effective tobacco control, they argued, could avoid hundreds of millions of early deaths, and tobacco taxation is the single most effective measure to increase quit rates and deter young people from taking up smoking.

A sharp rise in excise duty on cigarettes is also crucial because of the changing pattern of tobacco smoking in India.

A 2016 study illustrated that in the last two decades cigarettes increasingly substituted bidi, particularly among the youth and those with low incomes.

In their study, the researchers calculated the gains in terms of life years saved after factoring in the number of male smokers, their age, duration of smoking and their capacity to pay.

"A 50% jump in cigarette prices would lead to about 450 million years of life gained across 13 countries with almost half of the gain seen in China followed by Indonesia and India. Also, worldwide, some 20 million people could avoid extreme poverty for one year from a 50% higher cigarette price," the researchers representing the Global Tobacco Economics Consortium reported in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal.

In the past, public health researchers have repeatedly criticised Indian finance ministers for the small increase in excise duties in the Budget because such a small rise only helps people to switch brands rather than quit smoking.

Currently, tax comprises just about 43% of the retail price of a cigarette in India. This is one of the lowest among the 13 middle-income nations, studied by the consortium. The World Bank had earlier recommended that taxes on tobacco products should vary between 65-80% of the retail price in order to compel smokers to quit smoking.

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