Regulate Unorganised Tobacco Trade and Bring in Equitable Taxation Policies

To Safeguard Indian Consumers from Inferior Quality Tobacco Products

Consumer Online Foundation (COF), Patient Safety & Access Initiative of India Foundation (PSAIIF), The AWARE CONSUMER (TAC) and Healthy You Foundation in association with PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), today on the occasion of ‘World No Tobacco Day’ organised a webinar to deliberate on protecting the consumers who are getting victimised under the influence of NGOs of western countries and consuming spurious and inferior quality tobacco products. The webinar also discussed the amendments proposed in the COTPA law by the Ministry of Health of Family Welfare and its impact on consumers and livelihoods of retailers who reeling under the attack of second wave COVID-19 pandemic. 

The illustrious panel comprising consumer policy experts, scientists, healthcare professionals, farmer leaders, academicians, and people representatives among others unanimously recommended regulation on the unorganised tobacco trade in India and called for equitable taxation policies across all types of tobacco products to ensure quality products is available to consumers.It also suggested a symmetrical increase in taxes across all types of untaxed tobacco products which is widely available in the form of chewing tobacco, gutka, pan masala variants, zarda etc. affecting the health of the consumers. These products are consumed by the poorer section in India due to their affordability and accessibility in the absence of any regulations and taxation. Failure to bring them under the ambit of a uniform tax structure defeats the purpose of a tobacco control programme. Bringing in appropriate regulations and ensuring that all tobacco products are equitably will not only reduce its consumption or ensure superior quality product is offered to consumers but will also fetch additional revenues to the government.

India consumes 596 million kgs of tobacco of which only about 52 million kgs i.e., 9% is consumed in the form of duty paid cigarettes while the rest 91% of the tobacco consumption is in various other forms like bidi, khaini, gutka, chewing tobacco, illegal cigarettes, zarda, snuff, cheroot, etc. Also, internationally 90% of tobacco consumption is in the form of cigarettes with India accounting for less than 2% of global cigarette consumption. Our country accounts for 84% of the world’s tobacco consumption in a smokeless form.

Stressing on the need to avoid the adoption of any coercive tobacco control measures, under the influence of vested interests, to force stop consumers from consuming tobacco products, the expert panel observed that measures proposed under the COTPA Amendment Bill 2020 may not induce any significant change in tobacco consumption behavior of people. Instead, consumers will feel that they will start consuming more tobacco as they will be forced to buy full packs or switch over to other forms of tobacco like smokeless products which are of inferior quality. Noting that the unemployment rate in the country has already gone up to 14.7% as per the latest data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) for the week ended May 23, the panel further opined that such draconian measures will only benefit e-commerce and modern retail outlets at the cost of small retailers who are already under duress due to COVID induced lockdown in different parts of the country.

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