Tobacco Consumption: Higher Prices May Be the Most Effective Method

In India, the proportion of smokers is decreasing, but smokeless tobacco consumption is increasing. Tobacco use without smoking is widespread and poses a significant public health challenge. The use of smokeless tobacco in India is deeply ingrained in cultural and traditional practises, making public health interventions difficult to address.

DATA: Tobacco consumption in India

  • Consumption of tobacco among men in both smokable and chewable forms was higher in the north-eastern states of India in 2019-21 than in the rest of the country.
  • Consumption in the southern states is relatively low: In the southern states, the share of both types of tobacco consumption was relatively low. However, among those who smoked, the proportion of those who smoked more than five sticks per day was significantly higher in many southern states. So, while there were fewer smokers in the south, those who did smoked heavily.
  • Smokable forms: When only smokable forms were considered, the northern states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, J&K U.T., and West Bengal had a higher share.
  • If only chewable forms were considered, the share was higher in east Jharkhand, Bihar, and Odisha, as well as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.
  • The proportion of cigarette/bidi smokers is decreasing: Overall, the proportion of cigarette/bidi smokers in India is decreasing. In 2019-21, the proportion of smokers fell by more than 10% compared to 2005-06.

What is the cause of this trend?

  • Price increases for smokable forms: According to health economists, the decrease in cigarette smoking may be attributed to price increases for the commodity over time.
  • The cost of chewable form has not increased: On the other hand, the prices of bidis and other chewable forms have not increased significantly, and thus consumption has not decreased significantly.

Why is tobacco pricing and taxation important?

  • Effective method of reducing consumption: According to research from many countries around the world, including India, a price increase induces people to quit or reduce their tobacco use while discouraging non-users from starting.
  • For example, a study conducted in India discovered that a 10% increase in the price of tobacco products resulted in a 6.4% decrease in adult tobacco consumption.
  • Higher prices can also deter young people from starting to smoke: According to the World Health Organization, raising tobacco prices by 10% can reduce youth tobacco use by 4%. This is especially important because the majority of tobacco users begin smoking during adolescence.

Tobacco use: negative health consequences

  • Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer. Cancers of the lungs, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and cervix have all been linked to it.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, can be caused by it. It can also aggravate asthma symptoms.
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Consumption raises the risk of having a heart attack, having a stroke, or having another cardiovascular disease. It causes blood vessel damage and raises the risk of blood clots.
  • Tobacco use has been linked to infertility, premature birth, and low birth weight in babies.

Tobacco Use’s Social and Economic Impact

On an individual level:

  • Tobacco use can lead to decreased productivity and higher healthcare costs.
  • Smoking-related illnesses can cause absenteeism, poor work performance, and increased medical costs.
  • Furthermore, tobacco use can reduce life expectancy, which reduces an individual’s overall productive years.

On a societal level:

  • Tobacco consumption can reduce economic development by increasing the burden of healthcare costs and decreasing productivity.
  • According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study, tobacco-related illnesses cost India $22.4 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year.


Tobacco use has significant socioeconomic and health consequences in India, particularly among the poor and marginalised sections of the population. Worryingly, cigarette prices have not increased significantly since the implementation of the GST. Taxing tobacco products is an important strategy for reducing tobacco consumption and its associated health and economic costs.

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