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The tobacco epidemic in India

Why is it in the news?

  • Tobacco stands as a foremost avoidable contributor to illness, impacting approximately 260 million Indians and 6 million individuals employed in the industry. This widespread usage poses considerable health hazards, demanding attention and intervention.

More about news:

Tobacco Consumption Trends in India: Insights from Surveys                                                                  

  • Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS): GATS reports a general decline in tobacco use overall, except for an increase among women aged above 15 years between 2015-2016 and 2019-2021.
  • Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS): Among students aged 13-15 years, GYTS indicates a reduction in tobacco use in this demographic.
  • National Family Health Survey (NFHS): NFHS, which captures data on tobacco use among individuals aged above 15 years, echoes the GATS findings, showcasing a decrease in tobacco use, except among women.

Tobacco Control Measures: National & International Initiatives:

  • Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC): Global Efforts to Combat Tobacco
  • The FCTC, inaugurated in 2005, endeavours legally binding treaty to mitigate tobacco consumption globally by facilitating the formulation of comprehensive strategies for both demand and supply reduction.
  • India stands among the 168 nations that have endorsed the World Health Organization’s FCTC program, reflecting its commitment to international cooperation in combatting tobacco-related challenges.
  • Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003: Regulating Tobacco Activities
  • It encompasses 33 sections aimed at overseeing the production, advertisement, distribution, and consumption of tobacco products, ensuring comprehensive regulation across the tobacco industry.
  • National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP): Enhancing Tobacco Regulation
  • In 2007, India introduced the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) with the goal of enhancing the enforcement of COTPA and FCTC regulations.
  • NTCP aims to raise awareness about the adverse effects of tobacco consumption and facilitate cessation efforts to assist individuals in quitting tobacco use.
  • In addition to these measures, India implements tobacco taxation, a globally recognized approach to effectively curb tobacco use.

Challenges in Addressing Tobacco Consumption:

  • Poor Implementation of Existing Measures:
  • Lax Enforcement of Rules: Many smokeless tobacco products disregard packaging regulations outlined in COTPA, while smuggled tobacco items lack adequate regulation.
  • Outdated Penalties: Penalties for rule violations remain obsolete, with companies facing a maximum fine of just ₹5,000 for initial offenses, hampering effective deterrence.
  • Ambiguity in COTPA Regulations:
  • Surrogate Advertisements: While COTPA prohibits direct tobacco advertisements, it lacks clarity on indirect ads, paving the way for surrogate advertisements.
  • Indirect Promotion: Surrogate ads exploit loopholes by promoting tobacco brands indirectly, using products like elaichi. For instance, during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, surrogate ads featuring renowned cricketers indirectly endorsed tobacco brands, subtly encouraging tobacco consumption.
  • Effectiveness Shortcomings of NTCP:
  • Limited Impact: A 2018 study revealed minimal disparity in bidi or cigarette consumption reduction between NTCP and non-NTCP districts, suggesting NTCP’s effectiveness issues.
  • Underlying Causes: Insufficient staffing, inadequate resource allocation and utilization, and ineffective monitoring mechanisms are cited as potential factors contributing to NTCP’s ineffectiveness.
  • Tax Evasion:
  • The Indian government’s attempts to tax tobacco have been hindered by tax evasion, such as buying tobacco in areas with lower taxes and illegal activities like smuggling, illicit manufacturing, and counterfeiting.
  • Tobacco taxes in India are low and haven’t kept up with rising incomes, making tobacco products more affordable over the years.
  • A 2021 study found that cigarettes, bidis, and smokeless tobacco products had become more affordable in the past decade, and the shift to the Goods and Services Tax system made these products even cheaper.
  • Tax burden of 51% for cigarettes, 22% for bidis, and 64% for SLTs, much lower than the FCTC’s recommendation of at least 75% tax.

Way Forward:

  • While India boasts robust legislation such as COTPA, PECA, and NTCP to regulate tobacco consumption and production, there’s a pressing need for more stringent enforcement measures.
  • Strengthening Tobacco Taxation in India: tobacco taxes should be increased to match recommendations, inflation, and economic growth.
  • Supporting Tobacco Farmers: The government can aid tobacco farmers in transitioning to alternative crops, averting job losses.
  • Studies indicate that crops like jowar can offer higher profitability compared to tobacco.
  • Strengthen Border and Market Surveillance: Improve customs and market surveillance to combat smuggling and illicit trade of tobacco products.
  • Educating Children: Harmful effects of tobacco use should be incorporated in school curricula at various levels starting right from the primary school level.
  • Role of GST Council: GST Council meetings must strive to keep public health ahead of the interests of the tobacco industry and significantly increase either the GST rates or the GST compensation cess rates applied on all tobacco products.

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