GST council puts bidi in highest tax slab, anti-tobacco crusaders say welcome move

It is estimated that approximately 600,000 patients with cancer are treated annually in the NCG centres, which amounts to 60% of all patients with cancer in India. Bidi alone kills 6 lakh Indians every year

Activists battle bidi lobby on social media urging PM to include it in demerit category of GST
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Tobacco is a health hazard in our society, in a positive and progressive step forward the Union government has decided to charge bidi, at 28% under the proposed Good and Services Tax (GST), increasing the tax slab on bidi, which currently attracts 20% tax.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made this announcement after the GST council meeting which took place in Delhi on Saturday. While addressing the media Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley said, “Bidi will now be charged at 28%, but cess (additional tax) will not be attracted on it. Tendupatta (bidi leaves) will now be charged at 18% under the proposed GST tax”

But the doctors and caregivers in Mumbai, who are fighting for tobacco free society, have had mixed reactions on the government’s decision on bidis.

Speaking to My Medical Mantra, Dr PC Gupta, director, Healis–Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health said, “It is a partial disappointment as bidi is exempted from cess. 28% is a very small amount of tax. But, we are happy that our campaign of getting highest tax bracket for bidi has finally happened.”

Welcoming the move, Dr Lancelot Pinto, consultant respirologist at PD Hinduja Hospital said, “It is a good measure to increase tax on bidi. Worldwide research has shown that by increase tax and making tobacco products costlier, acts as a deterrent factor. We now hope for good tobacco cessation program in government run hospitals so that people who want to quit tobacco, manage to do so with medical guidance.”

Earlier in April, oncologists from India’s 108 cancer centres had joined hands together. The oncologists had written a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pleading with him, to put all tobacco products including bidi in the demerit good category.

While speaking with My Medical Mantra, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital said, “I must compliment GST council for putting bidi in demerit category. However, exemption from cess is a huge disappointment. Bidi kills 6 lakh people every year and massive health care losses due to medical problems among users.”