INCREASE COMPENSATION CESS ON TOBACCO PRODUCTS FOR ADDITIONAL REVENUE - DOCTORS, ECONOMISTS, PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIVISTS URGE GST COUNCIL
Consumer and public health groups along with doctors and economists are urging the Members of the GST Council to further increase compensation cess on all tobacco products, while retaining tobacco products at the highest demerit goods category at 28 percent under GST. Increasing compensation cess on tobacco products can help the Government garner additional revenue of 190 billion to make up the deficit short fall in GST collection.
Taxing tobacco products at 28% rate and additional compensation cess will not only bring in additional revenue but also reduce tobacco consumption, they explained in their letters to the finance minister. The additional revenues collected will support the deficit shortfall and can also be used to support Govt’s schemes like Ayushman Bharat.
The civil society, doctors and economist are urging the members of the GST council:
§ To increase the compensation cess uniformly on all cigarettes to Rs. 5463 per 1000 sticks on cigarettes irrespective of their size. Such increase could potentially increase the GST revenue from cigarettes by about Rs.150 billion while targeting a 10% reduction in consumption.
§ Compensation cess on all smokeless tobacco products should also be increased to 125%, on average, from the current 104%. This could potentially increase the GST revenue by about Rs. 3 billion while targeting a 10% reduction in consumption.
§ Considering the extremely low price of bidis which costs only about 65 paisa per stick, the compensation cess can be applied on bidis at the rate of 30 paisa per stick which is expected to result in a retail price of minimum Re. 1 per stick. This could potentially increase the tax revenue from bidis by about 37 billion while targeting a 52% reduction in consumption.
According to Ashim Sanyal COO, Consumer VOICE,New Delhi" The GST Council must consider the fact that there has been no increase in taxes imposed on tobacco for the last two years which has made cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco products more affordable and accessible, specially to the youth. The council should consider increasing the specific compensation cess uniformly on all cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. Given the extremely low price of bidis, it should also consider levying a compensation cess on bidis. This move will help the government to get the much needed revenue and also support its efforts to check tobacco consumption".
The present GST rates combined with the compensation cess for all tobacco products is far below the recommended level of tax burden (taxes as a percentage of final tax inclusive of retail price) of 75% by the WHO (World Health Organization). The total effective tax burden currently for tobacco products in India is only about 49% for cigarettes, 22% for bidis and 60% for smokeless tobacco - this data reveals a far different picture from what the tobacco industry is portraying in their demand for lower taxes. As the taxes have not been increased on any of the tobacco products for more than two years, all tobacco products have become more affordable during this time. Hence, increasing taxes on tobacco products are warranted not only for regulating its consumption, but also for raising more tax revenue.
Dr Rijo John, Economist & Health Policy Analyst –“India has witnessed decline in tobacco prevalence mainly due to the relatively higher taxation. However, it has been nearly two years since the tax on tobacco has changed under the GST, making tobacco products more affordable. It is high time the GST council raises compensation cess on these to sustain the prevalence reduction, as witnessed between the two rounds of global adult tobacco surveys. Concerns of increased illegal cigarette trade on account of tax increase are unsupported by the evidence both from within and outside India. A critical step to check this has been taken by the Government of India by ratification of the WHO protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products.”
“Government should levy uniform and high taxes on all categories of cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco. It should levy cess on bidis just as it does on other tobacco products. There is ample evidence about bidis being the killer and not the pleasure of the poor. It should be made unaffordable for the poor to save them from a lifetime of misery and suffering”, Doctor K.Kannan quote.
Tobacco kills more than 1.3 million people each year in India (home to the second greatest number of smokers in the world behind China). Additionally, tens of millions use deadly smokeless tobacco products. In fact, approximately 130 million people of age 15 and older in India currently smoke and roughly half of all adults are exposed to second-hand smoke at home. The total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rupees 1.04 lakh crore ($17 billion) in 2011 or 1.16% of India’s GDP.