Cut tobacco tax, deploy sisters

Rajasthan campaign draws scorn

By Rakhee Roy Talukdar in Jaipur
  • Published 12.08.15

Jaipur, Aug. 11: The Rajasthan government, which recently slashed the tax on tobacco products by 20 to 30 per cent, is urging sisters to get a Raksha Bandhan promise on affidavit from their brothers that they will quit smoking.

The sisters have been asked to click selfies with their brothers and the no-smoking affidavits and send these to the state's medical, health and family welfare department. A few sisters and brothers among those who participate in the Tambaaku Mukt-Shapath Yukt campaign would be picked through a draw and honoured.

Anti-tobacco activists have dismissed the campaign as laughable and underlined that a strict tax regime is the most effective tool of cutting tobacco consumption.

Sanjay Seth, the Delhi-based CEO of the Voice of Tobacco Victims, told The Telegraph over phone: "A strict tax regime on tobacco products is equal to all other methods put together and it is an established fact not only in India but the world over through numerous studies."

He added: "The Rajasthan government, if it is really keen on protecting its people from the harmful effects of tobacco, must restore the tax rates on cigarettes to 65 per cent."

In June, the Vasundhara Raje government slashed the VAT on chewing tobacco and related products to 45 per cent from 65 per cent. On paan masala, the VAT was cut to 35 per cent from 65 per cent. The 65 per cent levy on beedi, however, remains unchanged.

The tax was raised from 12 per cent in 2009-10 to an all-India high of 65 per cent in 2013-14 by the then Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot, earning it praise from the World Health Organisation.

The Vasundhara government says the cuts were made because it was "expedient to do so in public interest".

"What will happen if we increase the tax? It was one of the highest earlier but did the consumption come down? In our state, 32 per cent of the total population are tobacco users in one form or other. Rather than tax increase, these awareness campaigns would go a long way in reducing the consumption. Our neighbouring states are gaining the revenue we are losing. The tax slash has been done only to stop the tax evasion," health minister Rajendra Rathore told this paper.

However, Seth said that official records show that the tax revenue increased after taxes were raised. In 2009-10, when the tax rate was 12 per cent, the revenue earned was Rs 288.2 crore. In 2013-14, when the tax rate was 65 per cent, the revenue earned was Rs 750.1 crore.

Dharamveer Katewa, secretary of Indian Asthma Care Society, said: "All these campaigns are just a cover-up. When they decreased tax, they did it quietly, now they are publicising the awareness campaigns."