Activists in Kerala have opposed the decision not to increase tax on bidis and the token increase in the tax on cigarettes in the state budget for 2013-14, saying their consumption has hit the health of the poor hard.
In the state budget that was presented by Finance Minister K.M. Mani Friday he hiked the tax on cigarettes marginally from 15 to 20 per cent and did not hike tax on bidi.
Justice K. Narayana Kurup, former judge of Kerala High Court and the legal luminary behind the smoking ban in Kerala in 1999 said, exempting bidi from higher taxes to safeguard the interest of the poor does not hold merit as they can reduce consumption and live healthy life.
"Tamil Nadu is taxing bidis at 14.5 per cent, why can't Kerala do the same. The tax increase on cigarette is also disappointing in a state which prides itself for its public health initiatives," he asked.
Rajasthan which has a literacy rate of 67.06 per cent, which is below the national average of 74.04 percent has raised taxes on all tobacco products from 50 percent to 65 percent in its 2013-14 state budget.
Tiny Nair of department of cardiology at a leading private hospital said taxing tobacco products is a proven way to reduce consumption. The WHO studies have proved this.
"There are 1.6 million bidi smokers in Kerala, who mostly belong to poorest socio-economic backgrounds. Taxing bidis, which are among the world's most harmful smoking products, will contribute to bringing down use among bidi smokers," said Nair.
Renowned magician Gopinath Muthukkad who spreads anti-tobacco messages said, the WHO figures show that worldwide 165,000 children have lost their lives to passive smoking.
"What we need to do is to make cigarettes and bidis unaffordable to the poor who bear the higher brunt of diseases that cripple their life and make them unproductive... This can be possible only by raising taxes on these products," said the popular magician.
The current smoking prevalence of 27.9 per cent among Kerala men is significantly higher than 24.3 per cent for the whole of India.
More than 45 percent of the cancers in Kerala are tobacco induced.