Activists battle bidi lobby on social media urging PM to include it in demerit category of GST

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09 May, 17 13:49
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New Delhi: India is on the edge of the historical tax reform. While the country trusts that the Hon'ble Prime Minister and Finance Minister will take right decisions for healthier India, it is important to note that no matter how hard bidi lobby is trying for lower rates in GST, countrymen are sure that bidi will not be exempted and will be taxed as other tobacco products.
Out of 12 lac deaths in India every year from tobacco, bidi alone is taking away 6 lac lives. It accounts for nearly 80 - 90 % of total smoked products in India. Number of bidis sold is 8 times the number of cigarettes.
"The Government should make all tobacco products prohibitively expensive in the GST era. There is no justification for giving any subsidy to any product that kills every second user prematurely," Dinesh Trivedi, Member of Parliament, former Union Railway Minister said.
A recent letter from 108 cancer centers led by Dr RA Badwe, Director Tata Memorial Center, to PM Modi stated that "GST is a golden opportunity to correct the historical aberrations in tobacco taxation in India.
In the interest of citizens of India, especially future generations, we sincerely urge you to put all tobacco products including bidis in the category of demerit goods."
"We are sure that the Hon'ble PM and FM will tax all tobacco products including bidi at the highest category in GST. Bidis are consumed by 9.2% of adult population & cigarettes by 5.7% as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey. It is known that bidis account for a very high percentage of tobacco-related deaths and a product leading to 6 lacs deaths cannot be taxed at lower rates," said Dr Harit Chaturvedi, Chairman, Oncology, Max Hospital.
In PM Modi's dream of #SwasthaBharat, social media is the fastest way of reaching masses. A recent campaign by @VoTVIndia on twitter have messages for PM Modi demanding bidi to be in demerit category. These messages are urging PM Modi and FM Arun Jaitley to tax bidi in the highest category. Some very graphic memes have been shared bringing out the reality of bidis. Nearly 87,164 people on Facebook engaged in conversations on this policy ask, comprising #One TobaccoTax, reached out to approximately 1.3 million people. Till now, 1474 tweets have been sent out to PM Modi and FM Arun Jaitley, which have been viewed 283,757 times, asking for inclusion of Bidi under the highest GST rate along with other tobacco products. Additionally, 747 #One TobaccoTax supporters on an online flash mob generated tweets and posts to PM Modi, that were simultaneously viewed by 7,12,239 people on Twitter and Facebook. Ashwini Kumar Chaube, BJP MP from Buxar, Bihar, said: "As a former Health Minister of Bihar, I had banned gutka and raised taxes on tobacco products including bidi. I am sure the GST council will put all tobacco products in the highest tax category. It will save millions of lives." As per one estimate, nearly 2.5 lac children are engaged in bidi rolling. Women constitute upto 95% of total employment in bidi manufacturing and all of them are in very poor condition. Infact, the U.S. Customs Service banned the import of bidis produced by Ganesh Bidi Works in Mangalore, India, after receiving evidence that the company uses child labor. The most effective way to reduce tobacco use is to raise the tax on bidi. Higher prices reduces consumption and encourages users to quit. Studies of price elasticity in India find that a 10% increase in prices is estimated to reduce bidi consumption by 9.1%. Several Indian studies show that bidi smoking causes lung diseases, heart diseases, cancer, vascular diseases etc. Bidi smokers die almost a decade earlier than non users. A study conducted by the MOHFW and WHO show that the total economic cost attributable to tobacco use from all disease in India in the year 2011 amounted to staggering 1,04,500 crores. This loss is 1.16 percent of GDP and 12 percent more than combined state and central Government expenditure on health care in 2011. The total central excise revenue from all tobacco products in the year 2011 -12 amounted to only 17 percent of the estimated economic cost of Tobacco. Therefore, even in economic terms, loss from Tobacco is significantly more than revenue from Tobacco, a demerit good.
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