Cancer curse: India must act urgently to deter tobacco usage

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Published: February 7, 2020 4:42:25 AM

The WHO reports talks of controlling tobacco use (accounting for a quarter of cancer deaths), increasing hepatitis vaccination coverage to check liver cancer and HPV vaccination coverage to check cervical cancer, etc.

Cancer curse, World Health Organization, HPV vaccination coverage, tobacco use, tobacco products, WHO,  hepatitis vaccination coverageThe country saw 1.16 million new cases of cancer in 2018, and nearly 785,000 deaths.

The latest cancer report from the World Health Organization estimates that one in every 10 Indians will develop cancer, and one in 15 will die of the disease. The country saw 1.16 million new cases of cancer in 2018, and nearly 785,000 deaths. While breast, oral, cervical, lung, stomach, and colorectal are the commonest cancer types in India, there is a very high representation of tobacco-related head and neck cancers. While the world is estimated to see a 60% rise in cancer cases in the next two decades, the bulk of this increase—81%—will be in low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO reports talks of controlling tobacco use (accounting for a quarter of cancer deaths), increasing hepatitis vaccination coverage to check liver cancer and HPV vaccination coverage to check cervical cancer, etc. Tobacco-related diseases, including cancer, kill some 10 million Indians annually while nearly 270 million in the country are estimated to be using tobacco daily. It is not a problem of awareness—the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey’s India fact-sheet shows more than 90% of adult tobacco users in the country are aware of the links between tobacco usage and various diseases. The fact is that the government has done little to discourage tobacco use meaningfully. For instance, while the taxes on cigarettes post GST is 53%, it is just 22% for bidis—this is against the WHO recommendation of 75%. Worse, bidi-manufacture being a highly informal industry, almost 90% of the bidi makers attract no tax since they are not even registered. As a result, though cigarettes constitute just 10% of the tobacco market in India, they contribute 86% of the government’s revenue from tobacco. As per government sources, India spent more than Rs 13,000 crore on tobacco diseases. The true cost, researchers believe, could be more than double that. Against such a backdrop, the government should bring tax rates on tobacco products to the WHO recommended level to deter usage, and the start has to be done with bidi.

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