Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 24: Health professionals and anti-smoking groups Friday expressed displeasure after the state budget for the next fiscal was presented in the Kerala assembly, with no increase proposed in the tax on tobacco products.
Currently, cigarettes in Kerala attract a value-added tax (VAT) of 20 percent, while bidis are not taxed at all.
Finance Minister K.M. Mani, incidentally, increased tax on liquor products by around 10 percent.
Many who expressed resentment noted that while tax on liquor products was hiked, tobacco products were left untouched, and this was not in the interest of public health.
V. Ramadas, director of the Institute of Gandhian Thought, Research and Action said the government has been making loud proclamations about healthcare for all, but has failed to put its assertions into practice.
“By raising tobacco taxes, the finance minister would have done a great service to Kerala by bringing down the quantum of tobacco consumption, thereby preventing unwarranted morbidity and mortality,” Ramadas said.
An anguished Tiny Nair, head of the Department of Cardiology at PRS Hospital in the state capital, said it was unfortunate that fervent appeals to the government to raise taxes on tobacco and tobacco products fell on deaf ears.
Nair said: “Taxing tobacco products very well fits the age-old adage of ‘prevention is better than cure’. Why spend crores of rupees on treatment for health issues that can be easily prevented through fiscal policy measures?”
Renowned filmmaker Shaji N. Karun said that at a time when strong steps were being taken to implement tobacco control laws, it was depressing that the Kerala 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,” Karun said.
Nair and Karun were among the prominent opinion-leaders in the state who had earlier appealed to the finance minister to raise taxes on tobacco products to 65 percent.
Studies have shown that over 40 percent of cancer cases at the Regional Cancer Centre in the state capital are caused by tobacco use.
A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University of the US has shown that as many as 4.54 lakh precious lives can be saved, or early deaths averted, if VAT on tobacco products is increased to 65 percent.