Guwahati: The Assam state Budget for 2016-17 has proposed increasing the tax on cigarettes to dissuade its consumption, but has strangely remained silent on the matter of increasing tax on bidis, which are more harmful than even cigarettes. State Finance Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sharma has mentioned in his Budget speech about the ill-effects of tobacco and related products on human health. These have long-term negative impact on the overall society. The government pursues various steps to dissuade consumers of tobacco products and increasing the tax on such products is one such measure of the government. But there was no proposal to increase tax levied on bidis. Bidi smoking causes cancer and various other diseases in the human body. The people in the lower economic strata of the society smoke bidis due to relatively lesser price and fall victim to various ailments caused by it. The expenses incurred in treatment further breaks the backbone of such already-economically marginalized families. The government’s proposal to increase VAT on cigarettes is a welcome one, but such increase in tax is also needed in case of bidis.
Altogether 39.4% of the people in Assam consume tobacco. The total percentage of bidi smoking people is 5.3, which forms 11,56,380 people in real numbers. While on an average 29,600 people die yearly due to diseases caused by tobacco consumption in Assam, another 9,000 people die on an average in the state annually in ailments caused by bidi consumption. The all-India percentage of tobacco consumption is 34.6. Altogether 7,88,71,303 people smoke bidis in the country. The national average of people who die of diseases caused by tobacco consumption is 5,80,000. While 5500 new children start tobacco consumption per day in the country, the figure for children beginning to take up tobacco consumption in Assam is 140 daily.
According to Dr Ashok Das, who is the Assam state coordinator for Voice of Tobacco Victims and senior surgeon of Head and Neck department in Dr B Barooah Cancer Institute, Guwahati, bidi smoking is more lethal than cigarette smoking. Smoking bidi leads to cancer. The government should increase VAT on bidis, just as it has done in case of cigarettes. Dilip Gogoi, who had contracted cancer due to bid smoking, said, “I had been consuming tobacco for 30-35 years, which eventually led to cancer on my tongue. I feel that no person should develop such addiction. Especially, the youth should be wary of falling victim to such addictions.” Another person who contracted cancer due to bidi smoking, Abdul Rahman, said, “Had I known that bidi smoking would lead to cancer and cause such trauma, I would have steered clear of this addiction. Not just me, but my entire family is being punished for my bad habit.”
The Leader of Opposition in the Assam Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, said the VAT on bidis should be increased, along with the proposed increase in VAT on cigarettes. “We will draw the attention of the Finance minister to this issue in the next sitting of the Assembly.” Saikia pointed that all tobacco products, including bidi, are injurious to health. He said it must be ensured that people do not fall easy victims to these addictions. He stressed on the need for awareness generation against tobacco consumption, along with increasing tax as a deterrent. Social activist and Padma Shri awardee Ajay Lal Dutta said the government should pursue all measures necessary to deter people from taking up tobacco consumption. There should be no subsidies or concessions on tobacco products. The wide abuse of tobacco products is causing rot in our society. The VAT on bidi should be increased as has been done on cigarettes.
Cigarettes Existing VAT rates(per thousand sticks) Proposed VAT rates
A.Filter cigarettes of length Rs 1,600 Rs.1,850
B. Filter cigarettes of length Rs 1,225 Rs.1,450
exceeding 70mm but not
C.Filter cigarettes of length Rs 810 Rs 975
exceeding 65mm but not
D.Filter cigarettes of length Rs 550 Rs 775
exceeding 60 mm but not
E.Cigarettes not falling in any Rs 1,600 Rs 1,850
Of the above category
F.Other than filter cigarettes not Does not exit Rs 750