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Tobacco use in India UPSC NOTE

 Harmful effects of tobacco use in India

  • Tobacco is the most widely recognised preventable cause of disease and death in the world. 

  • It causes a wide range of diseases and affects those consuming it as well as those cultivating it. 

  • After China, India has the world’s highest number of tobacco consumers — nearly 26 crore, according to an estimate in 2016-2017. 

  • Additionally, the health of more than 60 lakh people employed in the tobacco industry is also placed at risk because of the absorption of tobacco through the skin, which can cause various diseases.

  • Tobacco’s deleterious influence extends beyond human health. 

  • It is a highly erosive crop that rapidly depletes soil nutrients

  • This requires more fertilizers to be used which further worsens soil quality

  • The plant is also a major contributor to deforestation

  • The production and consumption of tobacco generates nearly 1.7 lakh tonnes of waste every year in India

  • Therefore, tobacco production and use impose a heavy economic burden on India

  • A 2021 study estimated that the country incurred a loss exceeding ₹1.7 lakh crore as a result of tobacco’s effects on the health of its consumers in the fiscal year 2017-2018

  • To compare, the Union Budget allocated for health in the same year was ₹48,000 crore. 

  • In addition, cleaning up tobacco waste has been estimated to cost close to ₹6,367 crore a year. 

  • These estimates exclude the costs due to soil erosion and deforestation.

Status of tobacco use in India

  • The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), and India’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS) capture the status of tobacco use in India. 

  • GYTS assesses tobacco use in students between the ages of 13 and 15 years and GATS and NFHS in people above 15 years of age.

  • Overall, the results of these surveys have been promising: tobacco use has gone down in the population groups studied by these surveys. 

  • An exception to this is tobacco use in women, which went up by 2.1% between 2015-2016 and NFHS 2019-2021. 

  • This said, a major caveat is that no survey has been conducted since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Awareness and control programmes

  • India is one of the 168 signatories of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), launched in 2005

  • It aims to reduce tobacco usage worldwide by helping countries develop demand and supply reduction strategies

  • A law to govern tobacco sales in India has existed since 1975 and was amended in 2003. 

  • The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act (COTPA) 2003 has 33 sections governing the production, advertisement, distribution, and consumption of tobacco.

  • India also launched the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) in 2007. 

  • NTCP is designed to improve the implementation of COTPA and FCTC, improve awareness about the harms of tobacco use, and help people quit it. 

  • Apart from these interventions, tobacco taxation — a globally accepted method to effectively control tobacco use — is also applied in India.

  • However, existing measures are poorly implemented

  • Smokeless tobacco products (SLTs) have predominantly been non-compliant with COTPA packaging guidelines

  • In a progressive move, the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarette Act (PECA), 2019 banned e-cigarettes in India — yet they continue to remain a major public health challenge in the country. 

  • In one online survey completed by 840 adults, 23% reported having used e-cigarettes and 8% reported daily use


  • The tobacco lobby often argues that high taxes on tobacco lead to tax evasion. 

  • However, non-tax factors are equally, if not more, important. 

  • These factors include weak governance, high levels of corruption, poor government commitment to tackling illicit tobacco, ineffective customs and tax administration, and informal distribution channels for tobacco products.

Way forward

  • COTPA, PECA, and NTCP provide a strong framework to successfully control tobacco production and use in India. 

  • But they need to be implemented more stringently. 

  • In addition, the tax on tobacco products also needs to be increased in line with the recommendations of the FCTC, inflation, and GDP growth.

  • With government support, it is also possible to help tobacco farmers switch to farming alternate crops, avoiding loss of livelihood, as shown by multiple studies conducted by the Central Tobacco Research Institute. 

  • There is also a need for up-to-date data to understand trends in tobacco use to tackle the tobacco industry, which modifies its sales strategies based on readily available sales trends

  • Without such data, we will always remain a step behind the industry, and effective tobacco control will remain nothing but a pipe dream



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Tobacco use in India UPSC NOTE
Tobacco use in India UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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