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Should India have higher tax for sugary drinks and tobacco?

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22 Aug, 2018

Indians are increasingly consuming traditional Indian sweets along with Sweetened Sugar Beverages SSBs (like Coke, Pepsi), and other sugar-loaded food items (cakes, biscuits, cookies, ice cream etc.) The decrease in physical activity and increasing intake of sugar/sugar-containing products have led to the rapid rise of obesity and Type 2 diabetes (T2DM)  in Indians including hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Just one can of a 12 ounce (355 ml) Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar.

WHO recommends a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the life course. It also recommends both men and women to reduce their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake. It further suggests reducing the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake. That’s about 25grams, or 6 teaspoons per day, for a normal weight adult. 


A study conducted by Basu et al estimated that if SSB consumption is continued at the same current rate then the Indian obesity prevalence would be expected to increase from 39% to 49% and the incidence of T2DM would be expected to rise from 319 to 336 per 100,000 per year over the period 2014–2023. India, with the world’s highest number of diabetics, needs to find ways to cut sugar intake as it is a major cause of diabetes. India’s sugar consumption is rapidly increasing and any government measure to reduce population consumption such as a tax must be welcomed with open arms.

Tobacco consumption is yet another evil which causes a large number of diseases affecting the heart, liver, and lungs. Heart attacksstrokeschronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer(particularly lung cancercancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer) are caused by excessive consumption of Paan Masala and Smoking.

A study conducted by Gupta et al for tobacco-related mortality estimated that nearly 23.7% of the deaths among men (527,500) and 5.7% of the deaths among women (83,000) aged 35–69 years are due to tobacco-related illnesses. Second-hand tobacco smoke (SHS) kills 600,000 people each year. Since tobacco addiction and related illnesses are a major concern, significant increases in tobacco taxes would be very effective in reducing consumption among users. 


Because of the detrimental effects of SSB’s and tobacco, the Indian Government has introduced taxes on both, placing tobacco and SSBs under the highest tax bracket in the newly introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime in India, at 28% along with a cess on luxury and demerit goods such as tobacco, pan masala and aerated drinks. Such a high tax has the potential to discourage consumption and prevent adverse public health impacts as a result of high sugar consumption and tobacco use. By introducing GST for unhealthy products, India has set the ball rolling for one of the most critical policy reforms in public health.