Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has asked States to develop a tax policy to make tobacco products less affordable over time.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday wrote to Chief Ministers of all States (except Rajasthan) and Lt. Governors and Administrators of Union Territories to consider levying a VAT of at least 50 per cent on all tobacco products, including bidis.

In addition, he has asked them to develop a tax policy to make tobacco products less affordable over time, according to an official statement on Saturday.

These steps will go a long way in discouraging use of tobacco, help in improving the health of citizens and reduce avoidable public health costs, he said.

During the last financial year, over 10 States increased the State Tax/VAT on all tobacco products, including bidis. The most notable, he said, was Rajasthan, which levied a VAT of 65 per cent on all tobacco products, followed by Jammu & Kashmir, 40 per cent.

In his letter, he said Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) were the leading cause of death, globally as well as in India. These account for 5.2 million deaths in India (as per 2008 World Health Organisation estimates). In order to study the economic losses and health costs associated with tobacco use in India, the Health Ministry commissioned a report, “Economic Burden of Tobacco Related Diseases in India (2014),” whose findings showed that the total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in 2011 for persons aged 35-69 amounted to Rs. 1,04,500 crore.

This was approximately 1.16 per cent of the GDP and was 12 per cent more than the combined State and Central government expenditure on health in 2011-12. He told the Chief Ministers that India was the second largest consumer and third largest producer of tobacco products.

As per the estimates of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, India (2010), 35 per cent of the adult population in the age group of l5 and above consumed tobacco in some form or other and the estimated number of tobacco users in India was 27.5 crore.