New Delhi|Sandeep Dwivedi
Consumer VOICE a voluntary action group emphasizes how critical it is to effectively regulate and tax all forms of tobacco uniformly under GST regime to protect India’s most vulnerable populations .– the time has come for the government to step up to protect India’s 67.5 million bidi smokers from an untimely and painful death.
Bidis should be taxed at the same level as all other tobacco products under GST said Ashim Sanyal, Chief Operating Officer, Consumer VOICE.
The Delhi based 33 year old voluntary action group, urges the GST council to levy the highest tax rate of 40 percent under the GST regime on all forms of tobacco including cigarettes, bidis, smokeless tobacco as well as pan masala to discourage their use and addiction, especially amongst the poor and our nation’s youth.
Tobacco-use imposes enormous health and economic burden on the country. Each year, almost 1 million Indians die from tobacco-related diseases in India. The total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rupees 1.04 lakh crore ($17 billion) in 2011 or 1.16% of GDP. Tobacco-attributable direct medical costs alone are around 21% of national health expenditure. Indeed the costs of tobacco are far greater than what the Indian government/states gain in tobacco excise revenue (just 17% of total health cost).
According to Dr. Rijo John of IIT Jodhpur,“A recent report from WHO shows that current cigarette taxes as a percentage of retail prices in India are lower than even neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and rank 80th in the world. A 40% GST rates + central excise duty at the current levels would just about maintain the current tax burden on tobacco products.
According to, Ashim Sanyal, COO, Consumer VOICE, “The GST regime should discourage consumption of that hazardous substances like Cigarettes, Bidis, Pan Masala, Khaini and Zarda through higher taxes. He adds, “Bidis should be taxed at the same level as all other tobacco products under GST, since lower GST rates on bidis will promote its use amongst our most vulnerable populations and keep them below the poverty line.”
Bidis which comprise 48 percent of the tobacco market, (as compared to chewing tobacco which is 38 percent and cigarettes 14 percent) have been subjected to very low central and state taxes under the false pretext of protecting bidi rollers’ livelihood. However, the reality is that low taxes and exemptions only benefit the bidi industry owners. “We strongly support the highest level of tax for bidis under GST and petition that some of these bids taxes are used to improve our wages/living conditions as well as provide alternative livelihoods”, says, Nazim Ansari, Secretary Abul Kalam Azad Jan SewaSansthan (representing around 6000 bidi workers in Uttar Pradesh).