Anti-tobacco lobby's hope for beedi tax dashed

The budget for 2015-16 has not only brought dissatisfaction to those who were hopeful of new schemes and policies in the health budget, but has also failed to impress the anti-tobacco lobby in the State.

Even as chief minister Siddaramaiah proposed an increase in tax on tobacco products in the budget, the fact that there has been increase on taxes on beedi has left the anti-tobacco lobby unhappy.

According to the Institute of Public Health (IPH), in the State, the proportion of population smoking beedi is double that of cigarettes. While Karnataka has 8.3 per cent beedi smokers, just 4.4 per cent are cigarette smokers. Beedi is the larger issue in Karnataka compared to cigarettes, say experts. 

“While the concern of beedi workers is understandable, ignoring the lakhs of patients who are dying leaving distraught families behind due to this habit is unjustifiable. Taxing cigarettes and beedis equally will prevent product switching and the revenue generated can then be utilised to rehabilitate beedi workers to alternative safer livelihoods,” doctors from IPH said in a press release.

Dr U S Vishal Rao, senior consultant surgical oncologist, Head and Neck, HCG, said, “Realising the health burden caused by beedis, Kerala has announced a 14.5 per cent tax on beedis which is estimated to generate an additional revenue of Rs 15 crore. “Karnataka is among only six states in that has 0 per cent VAT on beedis. States like Kerala, Maharashtra, Goa and Tamil Nadu have beedi VAT in the range of 12.5 – 22 per cent and even in this budget, we have lost an opportunity to increase tax on beedis.”

Preventive level

Dr Upendra Bhojani, Assistant Director, IPH said, “It is high time Karnataka government takes steps at preventive level by utilising the most proven strategy of tobacco control - taxation.

Releasing a report on Economic Burden of Tobacco Related Diseases in Karnataka last year, Siddaramiah had said that the government spends Rs 983 crore on tobacco-related diseases, of which about Rs 700 crores is spent on diseases caused due to smoking.

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