NEW DELHI :

The number of tobacco users decreased globally from 1.32 billion in 2015 to 1.30 billion in 2020, according to the fourth World Health Organization (WHO) global tobacco trends report released on Tuesday. The report further said that the tobacco users is expected to continue to drop to 1.27 billion by 2025.    

The report highlighted that although South-East Asia has the highest rates, with around 432 million users or 29% of its population, it is also the region in which the numbers are declining fastest. India has been trying to curb tobacco usage as tobacco usage is considered to be a major factor for several cancers. The UN health agency said that the tobacco industry used the covid-19 pandemic to build influence with Governments in 80 States.  

According to the report, in 2020, 22.3% per cent of the global population used tobacco, 36.7% of all men and 7.8% of the world’s women.  “If tobacco was a virus, it would long ago have been called a pandemic, and the world would marshal every resource to stop it. But instead, it’s a multi-billion dollar business that profits from death and disease, imposes huge costs on health systems, and takes a massive economic toll in lost productivity,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO  said. He was speaking at the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.  

 “Taxation is the single most effective tool for reducing tobacco use, but illicit trade in tobacco products undermines the effectiveness of tax policies. Illicit tobacco products also exacerbate inequalities, because they are often cheaper and more accessible to vulnerable populations, such as young people,” he said adding eliminating the illicit trade in tobacco products is an important goal for public health, with benefits in many other areas of development. 

As per the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, eliminating illicit trade could reduce cigarette consumption by almost 2% and increase tax revenues by an average of 11%. The global tax revenue potential from eliminating illicit trade in tobacco is about 47 billion US dollars annually, the UN agency estimates.  

The Indian government last month set up an expert group led by a senior official in the health ministry to prepare a comprehensive tax policy proposal covering all tobacco products from a public health perspective. The mandate of the group includes analysing current tax structure of all forms of tobacco including smokeless tobacco and suggesting various tax rate models for consideration in the preparation of FY23 and future union budgets.   The idea is to have a roadmap for reducing tobacco demand as per WHO’s plans.  

Tobacco at present is a highly taxed commodity. It is kept in the 28% GST slab (other than for tobacco leaves which is taxed at 5%). Tobacco and its various forms are also subject to a heavy burden of cess, given that the commodity is seen as a sin good. For example, the cess is 65% on unmanufactured tobacco bearing a brand name. For cigars, it is 21% or 4,170 per 1,000 whichever is higher. The government also uses pictures of cancer patients on the packages of cigarettes to discourage its use.  

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