On the eve of World No Tobacco Day, a group of doctors, bidi workers and health activists today demanded increasing tax on bidi under the proposed GST regime to reduce its consumption. 

Taxing bidis below 28 per cent under the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) will lead to an increase in bidi consumption and further aggravate the public health and economic burden caused by bidi use in India, they claimed.

According to Dr. Rijo John, an economist and health policy analyst, a change in tax slabs could make a significant change in consumption and hence, all the more reason why the government and the GST Council should make an effort to discourage bidi consumption. 

"Moreover, a 28 per cent GST applied on bidis would only barely surpass the current tax burden on bidis in India. Hence, settling for a GST rate less than 28 per cent on bidis would result in a public health disaster in India as bidis are the most commonly used form of tobacco in the country," John said. 

In a letter to the Union finance minister, bidi workers from Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have alleged that the owners have prevented adequate taxation of bidis on the pretext of bidi workers who continue to work and live in bad conditions facing prolonged exposure to tobacco. 

These workers are also at high risk for life threatening diseases such as tuberculosis and lung cancer among others, said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India. 

A 2008 report published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, titled 'Bidi Smoking and Public Health', reviewed 15 studies conducted in India and concluded that bidi smoking poses a very high risk for cancer and in many cases bidi smokers were at greater risk for oral cancer, stomach cancer and lung cancer than non-smokers.