At last, a small victory for Ramadoss on cigarettes

March 2nd, 2008 - 10:36 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss

New Delhi, March 2 (IANS) Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has been losing some major battles on the anti-tobacco front, but he scored a small victory when Finance Minister P. Chidambaram raised the cost of smoking in the union budget. The move to make small non-filter cigarettes as costly as the plain ones has been welcomed by the anti-tobacco lobby.

Ramadoss, who is an ardent advocate of anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol campaigns, had written to the finance minister in the first week of February, urging him to raise the rate of excise duty on smaller cigarettes (70 mm or less).

In his letter, he said a lower tax on them was not right as they were consumed by the most vulnerable section of society - the poor and the youth.

Chidambaram seems to have heeded his request by increasing the excise duty on smaller non-filter cigarettes (not exceeding 60 mm length) nearly five times to Rs.819 per 1,000 cigarettes from the prevailing Rs.168.

There are 300 million people addicted to tobacco in India.

Said Bhavani Thyagarajan, joint secretary in the health department, “The initiative was taken by health minister who impressed upon the finance minister the need for higher excise duty on non-filter cigarettes as they are low-end products which are much cheaper.

“It is a positive sign in the public health direction. By making small non-filter at par with other cigarettes, people who were consuming them because they were cheaper will suddenly find them much costlier and this will make them reduce or leave the habit,” she told IANS.

Welcoming the move, Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, the director of health promotion at the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), said it would help in reducing cigarette consumption among the poor and the young as higher rates would put it out of bounds for them.

VHAI is a federation of 4,500 voluntary organisations, which works on health and development issues.

She, however, said they were disappointed that the finance minister did not increase the rate on gutka (chewing tobacco) and beedis.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one million Indians will die annually from smoking-related diseases by 2010.

Ramadoss, who has even taken potshots at Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan for their on-screen smoking, had also written to Information and Broadcasting Minister P.R. Dasmunsi to stop surrogate advertisements for liquor and tobacco products.

He got a major blow when a group of ministers (GoM) Feb 26 said that cigarette and beedi (leaf-rolled cigarettes) packs would carry pictorial warnings but not gruesome depictions.

While the health ministry had approved real-life pictures, including one showing a child dying due to the effects of smoking and another of mouth cancer lacerations and tumours, the information and broadcasting ministry suggested that the pictures be less harsh.

So now the pictures would be either of a lung or a scorpion - depicting cancer - while the size of the pictorial warnings would be either 30 or 40 percent of the package. It would not be the 50 percent as suggested by the health ministry.

The GoM headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee toed the line of the information and broadcasting ministry on both the size of the warnings and the pictures.

A decision is yet to be taken on the final shape of the warnings.

Ramadoss’ first defeat came last year when his decision to have the skull and cross bones logo on cigarette packs was made “optional” by parliament, which passed a bill in September saying that pictorial warnings on tobacco products be implemented by Oct 1, 2007.

The pictorial warnings too were put on hold as a decision had to be taken by the GoM.

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