Global Tobacco Control Updates
WASHINGTON, D.C. – India has reduced tobacco use among adults by 17 percent since 2010. As a result there are over 8 million fewer tobacco users today than there were just seven years ago despite the growth in the Indian population, according to new data released last week by the Indian government. The percentage of adults using tobacco in India fell from 34.6 percent in 2009-10 to 28.6 percent in 2016-17. The dramatic decline in tobacco use is highlighted in India’s second Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) and confirms that India’s package of public health laws are working to reduce tobacco use and save lives.
The declines have even been greater among young people. The prevalence of tobacco use among Indians aged 15 to 24 fell by 33 percent, from 18.4 percent to 12.4 percent. Among youth aged 15 to 17, tobacco use fell by 54 percent.
Since 2010, India’s leaders have taken a series of strong actions at both the national and state level to curb the country’s enormous tobacco epidemic, which claims one million lives each year. These actions include large, graphic warning labels that cover 85 percent of tobacco products. India’s warnings are among the largest in the world, showing that graphic warnings depicting the deadly consequences of tobacco use work to help current users quit and prevent people from starting to use tobacco.
India has also increased tobacco taxes at the state level and many states have banned gutka, a popular, but deadly form of smokeless tobacco. India’s newest data show that smokeless tobacco use has declined by 24 percent – a historic decrease that will save many lives in a country known as the oral cancer capital of the world.
Although India’s long battle to put graphic warnings on tobacco products has been fought by tobacco companies at every step, and is still being challenged by the tobacco industry in court in Karnataka, this policy has had a profound effect on smokers’ attitudes. According to the latest survey, there has been a 63 percent increase in the number of cigarettes smokers and an 84 percent increase in the number of smokers of bidis (cheap, hand-rolled cigarettes) who thought about quitting due to warning labels.
Despite these historic strides, there are still 267 million tobacco users in India. There are 199 million smokeless tobacco users, 72 million bidi smokers and 32 million dual users. India’s tobacco use is different than most countries. The three most commonly used tobacco products are khaini (a form of smokeless tobacco), bidis and gutka – making an emphasis on bidis and smokeless tobacco a high priority.
To further reduce tobacco-related death and disease in India, the government must strengthen its implementation of its existing tobacco control measures, as called for the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), with particular focus on policies meant to reduce the use of bidis and smokeless tobacco products. These measures include smoke-free public places, increased tobacco taxes, warning labels on tobacco products, effective mass media campaigns and restrictions on tobacco advertising.
Just this week, the Indian government took an important step and announced that it will tax cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and bidis at the highest rate of 28 percent under a new Goods and Services Tax (GST) structure. The government must make sure that none of these products are exempted and stand strong against the tobacco industry appeals and lobbying that will start immediately to water down the decision.
We congratulate the government of India for its significant progress against such a terrible epidemic. These results should spur state and national government officials to enforce and defend existing tobacco control laws across the country – and to continue passing laws designed to protect public health. India’s progress also shows the world that even countries with soaring numbers of tobacco users can drastically reduce the burden of tobacco use and improve public health for all. Without urgent action by more governments, tobacco use will kill one billion people worldwide this century.