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Health and environmental costs of tobacco use far surpass the revenue generated by the sector

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- India is the second largest producer and consumer of tobacco in the world. This despite the country being one of the first signatories of WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control


Surveys providing information on tobacco use are rare; basically, studies on heart diseases and lung ailments are used to collect data


There are an estimated 250 million tobacco users in the nation

Currently, smoking kills 800,000-900,000 people every year; when compared to non-tobacco users, cigarette smokers have 36 per cent greater risk of death, whereas beedi smokers have 68 per cent greater risk of death

Considering this, tobacco consumption patterns are worrisome: of the 200 million tobacco consumers in India, only 13 per cent consume it in the form of cigarettes, while 54 per cent consume it as beedi and the rest in raw gutka form

The prevailing tax system does not discourage the use of tobacco, as the contribution from non-cigarette products is low: around 20 per cent of the total tobacco excise collection

If non-cigarette tobacco products were taxed like cigarettes, it would generate revenue worth Rs 20,000-30,000 crore per year. It would also discourage the use of most harmful tobacco products

Environmental cost of tobacco cultivation is very hefty: to treat one kilogramme (kg) of tobacco leaves, nearly 6-8 kg of high quality dry fuelwood is needed; according to an estimate of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, between 1962-2002, fuelwood used for treating and manufacturing tobacco destroyed 868 million tonnes of wood. In calorific terms, the wood energy lost is enough to run a thermal power plant to provide electricity to Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh for an entire year

As per the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, when grown singly, tobacco is the most erosive crop, causing a loss of 45 kg of top soil of every 0.4-hectare per year

Pesticide and fertiliser consumption in tobacco farms is about 1.5-2 times greater than that of cereal fields. Reason: as tobacco is not native to India, it attracts a variety of pests. These insects also attack the neighbouring crops: tobacco growing areas in Andhra Pradesh are affected by at least 12 more fungal and viral diseases than places where tobacco is not grown

Tobacco cultivation also has social implications: about 20,000 children are forced to work in tobacco farms, and 27,000 work in beedi-making and cigarette-packing units

Stop tobacco use
By targeting rural consumers

Male*

Female*

Chew Smoke Chew Smoke
Rural 31.3 32.6 13.8 3.1
Urban 20.8 21.4 8.8 0.9
*Percentage of household members above 15 years of age who currently chew tobacco or smoke 1998-1999

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