Tax hike on cigarettes can prevent four million deaths in India: report

ADB report points out that the amount of money spent by the poorest 10 million male smokers on cigarettes a day can actually help them buy 1,400 calories worth rice

By Dinsa Sachan
Published: Thursday 22 November 2012

A new report released by Asian Development Bank (ADB) has proposed that raising taxes on tobacco products can bring down its consumption and prevent millions of deaths worldwide, including about four million in India.

The report warns that if such a price intervention is not made, smoking will eventually kill about 267 million current and future cigarette smokers in China, India, Phillippines, Thailand and Vietnam – five high-burden countries in Asia.

Taking into account current epidemiological evidence, the team applied statistical measures to arrive upon results.

According to the report, the total number of cigarette smokers alive today is over 400 million in the five countries, and there will be an addition of 137 million smokers at current rates. Smoking will kill 267 million of these 530 million current and future cigarette smokers. So it's imperative for countries to raise the number of people who quit smoking via price and non-price interventions, the report suggests.

The report further says that if cigarette prices are increased by 50 per cent (which would translate to a 70 per cent to 122 per cent tax increase) it would bring down the number of current and future smokers by 67 million in the five countries. This will translate into improved health, as deaths by tobacco use will reduce by 27 million.

ADB points another positive outcome of such a policy measure: $24 billion additional revenue annually (143 to 178 per cent increase over each country's current cigarette tax revenue). The report says that the amount of money spent by the poorest 10 million male smokers a day can actually help them buy 1,400 calories of rice or significant amounts of protein for improving their nutrition status.

K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, says that the study only repeats what has been established for the past 15 years. "Raising tax on tobacco products will directly impact smoking habits of the poor, young, and women–which are generally lower paid sections," he notes. He adds it's unfortunate that cigarettes are still not adequately taxed in India.

Health activist Mira Shiva, however, is not in favour of price interventions for tackling smoking. "It's like committing a sin and then imposing a tax on committing that sin," she says. "It will not deter smokers. The best way is to actually work on how to help people get rid of addiction."


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