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June 16th, 2015:

What has been the impact of legislation to standardise the packaging of tobacco products in Australia?

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‘In public interest’, Rajasthan slashes tax on cigarettes, gutka

The move has come under severe criticism from health associations and the opposition.

The state government reduced VAT on “tobacco and its products excluding bidi” to 45 per cent, from the existing 65 per cent, saying it was “expedient to do so in public interest”.

Barely six months after being honoured by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its strict tax regime — one of the highest in the country— on tobacco products, the Rajasthan government slashed taxes on tobacco products, like cigarettes and gutka, by as much as 20 per cent.

In an order passed on Friday last week, the state government reduced VAT on “tobacco and its products excluding bidi” to 45 per cent, from the existing 65 per cent, saying it was “expedient to do so in public interest”.

The move has come under severe criticism from health associations and the opposition, Congress, who claim it will translate into a direct rise in sale and consumption of tobacco products.

On pan masala too, VAT was reduced to 35 per cent from 65 per cent.

However, the existing 65 per cent VAT on bidis has been left unchanged.

“The massive cut in the tax on tobacco is directly playing with the health of the people of Rajasthan,” state’s former chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, said.

“It seems, the state government has joined the select group of BJP MPs, who said earlier this year that bidis and tobacco were not harmful,” he added.

In December last year, the Vasundhara Raje government received the World No Tobacco Day award from the WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO).

The award was given to the state finance department for its strict tax regime on tobacco.

“States like Rajasthan have taken significant steps to tax all tobacco products including bidis at 65 per cent (VAT). This has resulted in a concomitant increase in bidi prices in the state. In recognition of this initiative, WHO has conferred the World No Tobacco Day 2014 Award to the Government of Rajasthan,” the WHO had said in a statement issued last year.

The WHO advocates higher taxes — at least 70 per cent of retail prices — on tobacco products as a major deterrent to curb consumption and “leading to large reductions in the death and disease caused by tobacco use”.

“The high tax was getting the state government Rs 750 crore in revenues and was curbing consumption too. And the government itself had admitted in the Assembly, in March, that the expenditure on curing tobacco-related aliments — Rs 1,160 crore — was much higher,” said Satyen Chaturvedi, representative of the Rajasthan Voluntary Health Association.

However, Health minister Rajendra Rathore defended the government’s decision.

“High VAT does not mean low consumption, otherwise tobacco use would vary across states based on VAT. The government is committed to curbing tobacco use and we are doing it through various campaigns,” said Rathore.

Singapore to ban existing and emerging tobacco products as pre-emptive measure

Singapore’s Ministry of Health has announced plans to ban existing and emerging tobacco products in two phases as a “pre-emptive measure to protect public health against the known and potential harms of such products”.

Products banned in first stage:

· Smokeless cigars, smokeless cigarillos or smokeless cigarettes;
· Dissolvable tobacco or nicotine;
· Any project containing nicotine or tobacco that may be used topically for application, by implant or injected into any parts of the body; and
· Any solution or substance, of which tobacco or nicotine is a constituent ie intended to be used with an electronic nicotine delivery system or vaporiser (or what is commonly referred to as an e-cigarette).

Second stage ban includes:

· Nasal snuff;
· Oral snuff; and
· Raw, chewable tobacco products

“Besides protecting the public from the health risks associated with the consumption of emerging tobacco products, the ban is aimed at ensuring that the targeted emerging tobacco products do not gain a foothold or become entrenched in the Singapore market,” the statement said.

In addition to preventing these products from “stimulating demand for and thereby increasing the prevalence of tobacco consumption”, it will also prevent such products from becoming “gateway” or “starter” products for non-smokers, it added.

In a statement released on 15 June, the ministry said under the first phase, tobacco products that are currently not available in Singapore will be banned with effect from 15 December 2015.

The second phase will cover a ban on products already available in the market and will take effect from 1 August 2016. The delay in the ban is to allow for businesses to “adjust their operating models and deplete their existing stocks of such products.”

The products to be banned under the second phase include:

On 9 June, the Welsh government announced plans to put in place legislation to ban e-cigarettes in public places.