FM Sitharaman urged to raise taxes on tobacco products

New Delhi, Dec 28 (Agency) Ahead of the Union Budget 2023-24, several non-government organisations working for the welfare of women and children across the country, have appealed to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to raise taxes on all tobacco products to protect the health of women and girl children.

Women and child welfare organisations working in nine states namely Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, West Bengal, and Puducherry have cited several studies conducted both in the country and outside which show that tobacco usage by women in any manner is harmful to the reproductive health and affects pregnancy outcome, a statement said here on Wednesday. The risk of cervical cancer sharply increases with tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke from cigarettes, it said. According to 139th Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, on “Cancer Care Plan & Management: Prevention, Diagnosis, Research & Affordability of Cancer Treatment”, cervical cancer, is the second most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age with a high death ratio in India, the release claimed.

As per India’s National Cancer Registry Program and the last round of the National Health and Family Welfare Survey, female smoking rates were higher in those areas with higher rates of cervical cancer, compared to registries with lower rates of cervical cancer. It also noted that tobacco use is one of the most prominent risk factors associated with cancer, it said. “There is convincing evidence from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that use of tobacco use raises the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix or commonly called cervical cancer in females. Not only active tobacco usage but even second-hand smoke increases the risk of cervical cancer”, reiterates Dr Guru Prasad Mohanty, Radiation Oncologist at Zydus Hospitals, Vadodara, while recommending to disincentivise the consumption of tobacco in the country. In India, 28 per cent of the adult (age 15+) population currently uses tobacco products and of these 14 per cent are women as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS)-2. Non-smokers and women who do not use tobacco suffer from several health problems like cancer, lung diseases, and reproductive health problems caused due to exposure to secondhand smoke at home or in the public place.

Every fifth adult (19.9 crore) uses smokeless tobacco and every tenth (10.0 crore) adult smokes tobacco. Over 1.2 million people die every year from tobacco related diseases in India, the statement said. Varsha Deshpande, Convenor, Women and Child Rights Organization (WCRO) Coalition has made a passionate appeal to the FM to consider making tobacco products unaffordable by raising taxes on all tobacco products in the forthcoming budget.. “Increase in taxes will make the tobacco products costlier and thus less affordable for young girls and women, thereby saving them from lifetime of suffering and misery caused by tobacco related diseases and cancers,” she said. Durga Verma, a cancer survivor of Bhilwara has also written to the Minister requesting her to raise taxes on tobacco products. In her letter said that unabated use of tobacco products caused cancer in her and she had to get her ovary removed only after two years of having a son. “I used to smoke bidi, consume gutka and other tobacco products because of which the doctors said I got cancer.

There are many women like me who are facing health problems because of tobacco use. Being a woman, I believe you will understand the problem,” she said. Since the GST was introduced in 2017 there has been no hike in taxes on tobacco products, making them more affordable compared to inflation and rise in prices of other products. “We are hopeful that in the forthcoming Union Budget, the Government will consider our request,” said Munni Begum of Nari Chetna Foundation which works for the health, education and livelihood of women beedi workers and their children in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. “The revenue earned from increased taxes can be utilised for the welfare of women, children and especially the women beedi workers,” she added. India has the second largest number of tobacco users (268 million or 28.6 per cent of all adults in India) in the world. One million deaths in India are due to smoking, with over 200,000 due to secondhand smoke exposure, and over 350,000 are due to smokeless tobacco use, the statement said. Nearly 27 per cent of all cancers in India are due to tobacco usage. The total annual economic cost from all diseases and deaths attributable to tobacco use (among 35+ years) was a staggering Rupees 177,341 crore which is nearly 1.04 per cent of India’s GDP.