Thiruvananthapuram: With 5.5 million tobacco users in the state, various anti-tobacco activists have asked Finance Minister K.M. Mani to increase the tax on tobacco products to 65 percent.
At present, the state levies zero percent tax on bidis, and 20 percent on cigarettes.
The call for a hike in the tax comes after a study by the Johns Hopkins University of the US showed that as many as 4.54 lakh lives could be saved and early deaths averted if tax on tobacco products is increased to 65 percent.
Social activists, thinkers and doctors have all closed ranks behind the anti-tobacco activists, and written separate letters to Mani, who will present the state budget for the next fiscal later this month.
The common thread in the letters is that taxing tobacco products will not only help save many precious lives, but also bring much-needed revenue to the state exchequer.
Renowned dramatist and theatre personality Kavalam Narayana Panikker said taxing tobacco products would prevent draining away of precious resources on induced and preventable morbidity.
"With one stroke of your pen, you can save so many lives in Kerala," Panikker urged the finance minister.
Internationally renowned filmmaker Shaji N. Karun said increasing the price of tobacco through higher taxes is the single most effective way to encourage tobacco users to quit and prevent children from taking to smoking.
Professor at the Centre for Development Studies here, S. Irudaya Rajan, in his letter, has cited the case of Rajasthan to explain how tax increase can lead to greater revenues.
"The Rajasthan Government has consistently increased taxes on tobacco products in recent times and the tobacco tax in the state is currently peaking at an all-India high of 65 percent. Currently the state earns revenue of Rs.312.08 crore from taxes on bidis. Cigarettes also show an upward trend in tax revenues, when it rose from Rs.62.80 crore in 2009-10 to Rs.139.23 crore in 2011-12."
Cardiologist Tiny Nair said: "As a doctor, I try to cure those suffering. But as a human being, I am convinced that we need to prevent the problem in the first place. I urge increase of tax on all tobacco products to 65 percent in our state."
Meanwhile, as anti-tobacco activists are up in arms, reports have appeared that women seldom smoke in Kerala. That, however, is not the case at the Technopark campus in the state capital, where many women techies can be seen enjoying a smoke.