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Public health activists and doctors have urged Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to include 'bidi' in the list of demerit goods under the GST regime, saying higher taxation will discourage its use.
According to a study by the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) reported by Lancet in April 2017, bidi smoking is associated with severe baseline respiratory impairment, all-cause mortality, and serious cardiorespiratory outcomes.
"Taxation is the most effective way to reduce consumption but bidi has traditionally had very low taxes on the plea that livelihoods of thousands of bidi workers are at stake," Sanjay Seth, a trustee of Sambandh Health Foundation, an organisation which works for tobacco control, said in a statement.
According to him, moves are afoot to put bidi in the lower 18 per cent slab in the GST regime as compared to the other forms of tobacco which are in the highest tax rate of 28 per cent where cess is also applicable.
In the same statement, R Venkataramanan, Managing Trustee, Tata Trusts said Maharashtra alone witnesses 72,000 deaths every year due to tobacco usage.
"As concerned citizens, we urge ministry officials to make use of provisions of higher GST tax slab to discourage Bidi consumption," he said.
Surgical Oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital (Mumbai) Pankaj Chaturvedi said bidis, which cause 5.8 lakh deaths annually in India, are as dangerous as cigarettes and should equally be treated as a demerit or sin good under GST.
The Indian market of smoked tobacco is dominated by bidis, which outsell cigarettes by 8:1 ratio, the statement said.
As many as 16,400 people die every year due to bidi and the bidi lobby has sought the lower slab of GST by citing employment of 68,958 bidi workers in the state, it added.