Leading oncologists from over 100 cancer hospitals have urged the prime minister to include bidi in the list of demerit goods under the GST regime, saying this low-cost tobacco product is the single largest cause of smoking-related deaths in the country.
The demand from leading oncologists and 108 cancer hospitals under the aegis of the state-funded National Cancer Grid (NCG), comes ahead of the GST Council meeting on Monday in the national capital that is likely to fix GST rates, including those on demerit goods.
The meeting, to be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is also expected to finalise the fitment of various goods and services into five slabs under the GST regime.
The call follows media reports that the government may exclude bidi from the list of demerit goods and additional cess to protect the interest of tobacco farmers.
Oncologists from 108 cancer centres, led by Tata Memorial Centre, pleaded with Modi in a letter to end the serious anomaly of low tax on bidis in the Goods and Services Tax as bidi smoking alone kills as many as 6 lakh or 60 per cent of all cancer-related deaths annually.
The NCG is a network of 108 cancer hospitals, research institutes, patient groups, professional societies and charities and works towards uniform quality of cancer care across the country.
It is estimated that around 6 lakh cancer patients are treated annually at the NCG centres, which amounts to 60 per cent of the total cancer patients in the country.
Calling for putting all tobacco products, including bidis in the demerit goods list under GST and fixing a uniform tax on all tobacco items, R A Badwe, director at Tata Memorial Centre said: "The present tobacco taxation is much lower than the WHO recommended level. GST is a golden opportunity to correct this historical aberration in tobacco taxation.
"In the interest of citizens, especially future generations, we urge you to put all tobacco products, including bidis, in the category of demerit goods in the proposed GST structure and rates."
Pramesh C S, cancer surgeon at the Tata Memorial hospital, which is the largest cancer facility in the country, and coordinator of the NCG said, "tobacco kills every third user prematurely and unfortunately every third adult uses some form of tobacco".
He said: "About 10 lakh die of tobacco-related diseases each year in the country and nearly 40 per cent of all cancer cases the country are attributable to tobacco usage. High taxation will certainly curb this epidemic."
The letter pointed out that according to the Union health ministry, total economic cost attributable to tobacco use in 2011 was a staggering Rs 1.05 lakh crore or 1.16 per cent of the then GDP. It was 12 per cent more than the combined healthcare budgets of the Centre and states.
The total excise duty collected from tobacco was however only 17 per cent of this cost, Badwe said.
A uniform taxation on all tobacco products can be a first effective step to discourage its consumption, the letter said.
It concluded by saying that cancer cannot be defeated unless tobacco use is curtailed and termed tobacco-related deaths as man-made disasters.