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

A press note released by the team of oncologists fighting change stated that India is on the edge of historical tax reform and while the bidi lobby is trying hard for lower rates in GST, the government should think about people’s health and tax bidi as other tobacco products

Activists battle bidi lobby on social media urging PM to include it in demerit category of GST
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After writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding to cap bidi under highest Goods and Services Tax (GST), 108 cancer centres have strengthened their efforts by starting a campaign on social media.

A press note released by the team of oncologists fighting change stated that India is on the edge of historical tax reform and while the bidi lobby is trying hard for lower rates in GST, the government should think about people’s health and tax bidi as other tobacco products.

As per the data in the press release

  • Out of 12 lakh deaths in India every year from tobacco, bidi alone is taking away 6 lakh lives.
  • It accounts for nearly 80% – 90% of total smoked products in India.
  • Number of bidis sold is 8 times the number of cigarettes.
  • As per one estimate, nearly 2.5 lakh 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.
  • In fact, the US Customs Service banned the import of bidis produced by Ganesh Bidi Works in Mangalore, India, after receiving evidence that the company uses child labour.

The most effective way, according to the members of the campaign, to reduce tobacco use is to raise the tax on bidi as higher prices reduce consumption and encourage 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%.

The recent letter from the 108 cancer centers, led by Dr RA Badwe, Director Tata Memorial Center, addressed to PM Modi stated GST as a golden opportunity to correct historical aberrations in India’s tobacco taxation.

“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,” the letter requested.

“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.

“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 lakh deaths cannot be taxed at lower rates,” said Dr Harit Chaturvedi, Chairman, Oncology, Max Hospital.

A recent VoTV India campaign on Twitter tweeted to PM Modi demanding bidi to be in demerit category. These messages are urging PM Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to tax bidi in the highest category.

The press note states, “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 #OneTobaccoTax, reached out to approximately 1.3 million people. Till now, 1,474 tweets have been sent out to PM Modi and FM Jaitley, which have been viewed 2,83,757 times, asking for inclusion of bidi under the highest GST rate along with other tobacco products. Additionally, 747  #OneTobaccoTax 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, 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.”

Past studies reveal

  • 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 total economic cost attributable to tobacco use from all disease in India in 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