Voice of Tobacco Victims, a civil society organisation, on Monday criticised the Punjab government's recent decision to roll back taxes on cigarettes from 55% to 22%.
Neighbouring states such as Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir have increased value-added tax (VAT) on tobacco products, professor of surgical oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital Pankaj Chaturvedi said here, adding that the Bihar government, too, had proposed to increase VAT to 57% this year.
He said when prices of all commodities were going through the roof, the lowering of tobacco prices spoke volumes about the state government's commitment towards the health of Punjabis and the fight against cancer.
"Smuggling is flourishing due to weak enforcement and strict action needs to be taken to tackle the issue instead of decreasing VAT," he said.
Chaturvedi said according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey of 2010, nearly 24 lakh of the adult population (15 years or above) of Punjab consumed tobacco product in some form.
As per Johns Hopkins experts, of these 24 lakh, nearly 9 lakh Punjabis will die prematurely due to serious illnesses such as cancer and heart diseases, he added.
Ashima Sarin, project director of the organisation, said, "Children are the major targets of the tobacco industry. Slowly and gradually, the use of tobacco is reaching an endemic level with more than one million people annually dying due to tobacco-related diseases in the country."