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Resentment over nil tax increase on tobacco products

No tax hike for tobacco products in budget 2014 !, 2014): The Government’s stance at not raising tobacco taxes in the 2014-15 Kerala Budget, waving aside popular sentiment, has left many severely disappointed. Health professionals and tobacco control advocates feel that the total ignorance shown to taxing tobacco products in the Budget presentation made by the Hon’ble Finance Minister Shri KM Mani today is a retrogressive step in the state’s public health.

Expressing dismay, Prof V Ramadas, Director, Institute of Gandhian Thought, Research and Action said, “While the Government has been making loud proclamations about ‘healthcare for everyone’, it does not seem to translate itself into practice as the Finance Minister omitted taxes on tobacco and tobacco products in his Budget speech. A golden opportunity to showcase the Government’s commitment to redeem Kerala’s public health from a state of crisis has been lost.”

Prof Ramadas, who has been actively working to control tobacco use in Kerala for the past six decades added, “By raising tobacco taxes, the Finance Minister would have done a great service to Kerala society by bringing down the quantum of tobacco consumption, and thereby preventing unwarranted morbidity and mortality.”

An anguished Dr Tiny Nair, Head, Department of Cardiology, PRS Hospital said, “It is unfortunate that our fervent appeals to the Government for raising tobacco taxes fell on deaf ears. Taxing tobacco products very well fits the age-old adage of ‘prevention is better than cure’. Why spend crores on treatment costs for health issues that can be easily prevented through fiscal policy measures?”

Renowned filmmaker Shri Shaji N Karun said, “At a time when staunch steps are being taken to implement tobacco control laws, it is depressing that our Finance Minister failed to comprehend the protracted advocacy for higher tobacco taxes. I wonder how the Government did not conceive of this simple measure with far-reaching preventive health implications for the younger generation.”

Dr Nair and Shri Karun were among the prominent thought leaders of Kerala who had appealed to the Finance Minister for raising taxes on tobacco products to 65 per cent.  Celebrated theatre personality, poet and dramatist Padmabhushan Shri Kavalam Narayana Panikker; former Vice Chancellor, Kerala University Dr G Balamohanan Thampy;  economist and professor, Centre for Development Studies Dr S Irudaya Rajan and Justice KP Balachandran were some of the others.

Over a personal meeting with Shri Mani, tobacco use cancer victims shared their traumatic experiences and requested him to raise tobacco taxes in Kerala, as increasing taxes is the single most effective way to decreasing consumption and encouraging users to quit. Over 40 per cent of cancer cases at the Regional Cancer Centre here are tobacco-borne.

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University, USA has shown that as many as 4.54 lakh precious lives can be saved/early deaths averted if VAT on tobacco products is increased to 65 per cent. Currently, cigarettes have a VAT of 20 per cent while bidis are not taxed at all in Kerala


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