Every six seconds, someone in the world dies from tobacco use, and approximately the sixth death occurs in India. India accounts roughly for 10 per cent of world's tobacco smokers. India is also the third largest producer of tobacco leaf in the world.
While the newly appointed Health Minister of India Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who himself is a medical practitioner, admits tobacco is the worst enemy of the country, his ministry does not have the latest figures of deaths attributed to tobacco use in India.
Neither the Ministry has any data on estimated deaths due to second hand smoking or pre-mature deaths due to parental smoking in India.
In reply to an application under RTI Act, Union Health Ministry could only give data of 2004 on estimated deaths attributable to consumption of tobacco! But latest estimation by independent researchers say, one million people in the country die of tobacco consumption.
Still Dr. Harsh Vardhan hopes 'lakhs of countrymen who consume tobacco will have given it up' when the country marks World No Tobacco Day next year. According to media reports, the health ministry has announced that the last day of every month will be declared no tobacco use day.
The economic cost of tobacco use in India is a staggering Rs. 1,04,500 crores (1045 Billion rupees), according to the latest report on the 'Economic Burden of Tobacco Related Diseases in India' compiled by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), which is equal to 12 per cent of the combined expenditure on healthcare of the Central and State governments in 2011.
According to the Indian Science Journal (ISJ) web site, tobacco consumption is the single most important avoidable factor in the growth of non-communicable diseases in India.
Tobacco is an important economic activity in India – about 7 million people are employed in its production and sale directly or indirectly. It earns roughly 2 per cent of the Central Tax revenue. Considering the economic cost of tobacco use, the revenue earning from tobacco is only 17 per cent, which justifies the call for a complete ban on production of all tobacco products.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, however feels, raising taxes on tobacco could bring down its consumption, as mandated by WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
"A tax increase that raises prices of tobacco products by 10 per cent is estimated to reduce tobacco consumption by 4-5 per cent," according to Ms Nata Menabde, WHO Representative to India. "Essential as tax goes up, death and disease goes down. Raising taxes on tobacco is a win-win situation. It is good for people's health and good for the economy."