Tobacco growers express concern over new draft Bill

Tobacco growers in Prakasam district are a worried lot as the proposed legislation will only aggravate the illegal cigarette trade.  

Upset over ‘excessive regulation’ and high taxes on cigarette, farmers in the traditional tobacco growing areas in Prakasam district have urged the Union and State governments to address the problem of illegal trade flourishing in the country.

A delegation of farmers urged State Environment Minister Balineni Srinivasa Reddy to use his good offices with the Centre not to go ahead with enactment of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 as livelihood of over 45.7million people depend upon the sector was at stake. The proposed legislation came at a time when the growers were grappling with unseasonal rains and COVID-19 casting its shadow on the market.

The bill drafted to curb smoking was ‘draconian’ in nature at a time when the country already had stringent regulations which aided illegal tobacco trade, said Tobacco Board vice-chairman G. Konda Reddy.

The proposed legislation aimed at increasing the smokers age from 18 to 21 years, ban sale of free cigarettes, get rid of smoking rooms in airports and eateries and enhance penalties for flouting public smoking guidelines.

Voicing their concern over regulatory overreach, Southern Black Soil Farmers’ Welfare Association president Pothula Narasimha Rao said India was now a safe haven for illicit tobacco trade. The country was fourth largest illicit market for cigarettes in the world and the menace went unchecked.

Illegal trade

The proposed legislation would only aggravate the illicit cigarette trade controlled by unsocial elements. It would adversely affect, among others, farmers and farm workers in the drought-prone district as they grew tobacco, a drought-resistant crop without any viable economic alternative, opined Ongole II Tobacco Farmers’ Welfare Association secretary V.V.Prasad. The Centre should focus on curbing illegal cigarette trade comprising international smuggled and locally manufactured tax-evaded cigarettes which accounted over 25% of domestically manufactured cigarettes, they said.

According to an estimate by the tobacco industry, the government lost more than ₹15,000 crore per year on account of illegal tobacco trade. Extreme regulations and discriminatory taxation policy would not result in decrease in overall tobacco consumption.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 5:37:05 PM |

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