Though Indians start smoking late in terms of age, quitting the habit is very rare in the country, with only two per cent of adults managing to kick the butt, compared to 40 per cent in the United States and Europe.

According to a latest study, the figure also varies state-wise, with Kerala reporting the highest number of quitters at seven per cent and Delhi reporting the lowest at below one per cent.

The study was carried out by the National Institute of Public Finance and Centre for Global Health Research.

Life expectancy reduces by one year for every 10 per cent increase in smoking. The study said that smoking prevalence at ages 20-24 years in urban males rose from 13 per cent in 1999 to 25 per cent in 2006. Most of the increase was in cigarettes (and not bidis), the study said.

“This in effect means that overall life expectancy of urban males will drop by over one year, unless smokers quit,” Prabhat Jha, one of the writers of the report said.

The report further showed that in India, since 1999 to 2006, the number of smokers in the age group of 20-24 years has increased from 13 per cent to 25 per cent.

For men and women with an average age of 30, male bidi smokers lose six years of their lives, female bidi smokers lose eight years of their lives, and male cigarette smokers lose 10 years of their life.

According to the document, higher taxes are the single most effective intervention to get smokers to quit. For example, a 10 per cent price rise will result in a 2-4 per cent reduction in the number of current smokers.

The study recommended a big tax hike on cigarettes, and especially on bidis, which could save some two crore lives over the next few decades.

The report also recommended tightening tax exemptions on bidi production. In addition, it calls for a much simpler approach to taxing tobacco in India, one that allows for adjustments for inflation and reduces the current complex differentials in taxes across tobacco products.

In addition to saving lives and enhancing government revenues, tobacco-related illness and deaths costs Indian governments and private citizens more than Rs. 30,000 crore (sample year 2002-2003).

The report also suggets that governments consider earmarking some of the money raised by increased tobacco taxes to support efforts to further reduce tobacco use and help bidi users and workers.

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