Experts are upset that the government continues to subsidise bidi that is responsible for nearly six lakh deaths a year. According to Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, it is a welcome move that tobacco tax has gone up by 10-15 per cent but bidi is not under the taxation ambit, which is unfortunate.
According to Dr P C Gupta, Director, Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health and author of a new study published in the journal BMJ Global Health, cigarettes are replacing the traditional bidi possibly due to increasing income levels in India.
The number of men smoking tobacco in India rose by more than one-third to 10.8 crores between 1998 and 2015, according to the study. While the total number of smokers is increasing due to population growth, the study found that the number of men smoking any type of tobacco at ages 15-69 years rose by about 2.9 crore or 36%—from 7.9 crores in 1998 to 10.8 crore in 2015—representing an average annual increase of about 17 lakh male smokers.
The study used three large-scale nationally representative surveys namely Special Fertility and Mortality Survey (1998), Sample Registration Survey-Baseline Data (2004) and Global Adult Tobacco Survey (2010) covering about 1.4 crore residents from 25 lakh households.
By 2015, there were roughly equal numbers of men aged 15-69 years smoking cigarettes or bidis. Approximately 6.1 crore Indian adult men smoked cigarettes (4 crore exclusively) and 6.9 crore smoked bidis (4.8 crore exclusively). According to the World Health Organisation, raising the tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and deter future smokers.