Amidst outrage over recent cabinet decision to hike value added tax (VAT) on petrol and diesel, a more 'sinister' step of Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, endorsed in the same cabinet meeting largely escaped public attention—reduction of VAT on cigarette from 27 per cent to 13 per cent.
The decision has evoked strong reactions from stakeholders all the more because World Health Organisation (WHO) on World No Tobacco Day, observed on May 31, 2014, overtly appealed to all the countries particularly developing and under-developed countries to raise tax on cigarettes.
The WHO theme paper on World No Tobacco Day-2014 said "For World No Tobacco Day 2014, WHO and partners call on countries to raise taxes on tobacco. Under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) countries should implement tax and prices policies on tobacco products as a way to reduce tobacco consumption. ..."
Eminent oncologist Dr Shyam Agrawal, who has been fighting against consumption of tobacco in any form including smoking at the individual level, while strongly siding with WHO position on higher taxes on tobacco products said what the cabinet has done is "extremely unfortunate" to say the least.
Mukesh Singh of MP Voluntary Health Association, referred to a survey undertaken by his group in 2011 and said it clearly showed that government ends up spending more on treatment of tobacco-induced diseases that the revenue it earns from their sale. "If the cabinet still decides to drastically reduce tax on cigarette and make it more accessible to people, what should I say?" he asked.
Pushpendra Singh, a government employee, also opposed the government move despite the fact that he is a smoker himself. "I may have become addicted to smoking but if higher taxes discourage youngsters from smoking, nothing like it," he said.