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India dramatically reduces tobacco use, inspiring increased local action

Bengaluru, July 04, 2017: According to new data released last week by the Indian government, India has reduced tobacco use among adults by 17 per cent 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. 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. Now, the Indian government took an important step  by taxing cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and bidis at the highest rate of 28 percent under a new Goods and Services Tax (GST) structure.

The intersectoral action for tobacco control in Karnataka is heartening to see with several government departments and civil societies coming together for this cause. The implementation and monitoring of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act in Karnataka serves as a model for other states to follow. Every life is precious and should definitely not be wasted on such harmful products, said Additional Director General Of Police, Mr. Raghavendra Auradker.

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. Karnataka has taken several progressive steps for tobacco control such as effective implementation of COTPA, first of it’s kind online reporting system, banning of E-cigarettes and gutka in the state, making cancer a notifiable disease etc.

“The importance of effective enforcement of tobacco control laws balanced with spreading awareness on the harms of tobacco use is evident by these latest results. We congratulate the government of India for its significant progress against such a preventable epidemic. India’s progress in-spite of the large population and diversity of tobacco products available 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” said Dr. Vishal Rao, Member, High power committee on Tobacco control, Government of Karnataka.