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  In this article
 »  Abstract
 » Introduction
 » Data and Methods
 »  Tax Structure of...
 »  Excise Revenue f...
 »  Increase in Tax ...
 »  Affordability of...
 » Discussion
 » Conclusion
 »  References
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  Table of Contents  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 51  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 8-12

Taxation of smokeless tobacco in India

1 Health Economics, Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) Bhubaneswar, India
2 Health Promotion and Tobacco Control Division, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication19-Dec-2014

Correspondence Address:
S K Rout
Health Economics, Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) Bhubaneswar
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-509X.147420

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 » Abstract 

Background: The role of fiscal policy, especially taxation, though has been proved to be an effective instrument of tobacco control, its application is limited in India due to several reasons. This paper examines the tax structure, price and affordability of SLT products in order to provide evidence on how to strengthen the role of fiscal policy in tobacco control. Method: Secondary data on tax structure and revenue from tobacco products were collected from the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. In order to measure the rise of prices corresponding to the increase in tax rate, the retail price index (RPI) and Whole Price Index (WPI) of SLT products were compared with the price index for all commodities for the period 2006-2012. The affordability of tobacco products is calculated by dividing prices of tobacco products by per capita income. Results: During the last 6 years, the tax rate on SLT has gone up leading to a rise in the prices of SLT products more than the general price rise. However, the price rise is less than the per capita income growth indicating increasing affordability. The study observed a decline in the consumption of zarda and kahini due to the price increase during 2008-2013. However, the decline in the consumption of zarda is less compared with khaini due to a very low rise in its price. Conclusion: The prices should be raised more than the growth in income to influence consumption. Tax administration is a major challenge for SLT products and strengthening it could enhance revenue collection from SLT products.

Keywords: Affordability, consumption, tax structure

How to cite this article:
Rout S K, Arora M. Taxation of smokeless tobacco in India. Indian J Cancer 2014;51, Suppl S1:8-12

How to cite this URL:
Rout S K, Arora M. Taxation of smokeless tobacco in India. Indian J Cancer [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Dec 3];51, Suppl S1:8-12. Available from:

 » Introduction Top

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 26% of the adults use some form of SLT. The prevalence of smoking and chewing tobacco varies across the states in India and is determined by socioeconomic and cultural practices. [1] The use of SLT, especially chewing tobacco, shows a socioeconomic gradient with higher consumption among poor, less educated and scheduled caste and scheduled tribes. [2] Further evidence indicates that though the relationship between education level and tobacco use is inconsistent, increasing income is associated with a higher likelihood of cigarette use and the lower likelihood of bidi and SLT use across the Indian states. [3] As evidence suggests, people from low socioeconomic status are more likely to use SLT and this pattern should be taken into account while designing polices for tobacco control in India.

There is ample evidence showing tobacco tax is the most cost-effective intervention of tobacco control. An increase in tax could lead to the reduction of tobacco consumption through the increase in prices of tobacco products. Several studies have produced estimates of price elasticity of tobacco products and the estimate varies across the rich and poor countries, among tobacco products and socioeconomic groups. Most of the earlier studies were related to developed countries, which produced elasticity estimates for the smoking products. However, recent studies are available for the poor and developing countries taking into account the varieties of tobacco use. The estimates from developed [4] countries suggest that the price elasticity of demand for cigarettes varies from −0.25 to −0.5 and in the low- and middle-income countries this ranges between −0.5 and −0.1. In the South-Asian countries, the short-run price elasticity varies from −0.17 to −0.78 while the long run elasticity varies from −0.4 to −1.21. [5] Analyzing data from Bangladesh, one study observed own price participation elasticity of cigarette at −0.46 and −0.29 for bidi, which are also statistically significant. [6] This study also finds that own price elasticity for bidi and cigarette is higher among people from the low socioeconomic status. Using data from Sri Lanka household survey, one study suggested that tobacco prices have statistically significant effect on tobacco consumption. [7] Another study in China observed that price elasticity of demand for cigarette varied within a range of −0.50 to −0.64. [8] The consumers in low- and middle-income countries are more responsive to the prices than the rich countries, evidence that may encourage the policy makers in the low- and middle-income countries to use taxation effectively in their tobacco control efforts. The studies on elasticity estimation for tobacco products though are limited in India; available literature shows that a 10% increase in the price of bidi could lead to 9.2% reduction in demand in rural areas and 8.5% in urban areas. [9] For cigarettes, however, the demand is relatively inelastic to the increase in the prices. Another recent study [10] observed higher known price elasticity for cigarettes than what was previously known and observed higher price of elasticity of bidi similar to the previous study. [9] About the effect of higher taxes and prices on the tobacco consumption, it depends upon the income level, proportion of income spent on tobacco products and the socioeconomic practices. Several other studies have also examined the impact of price increase on tobacco use pattern of the adults and youths. Studies find that adults are 2-3 times more responsive to tax and prices than older persons. All these evidences make the case for higher taxation on tobacco products.

Based on the case for higher tobacco taxation, this paper investigates the nature and structure of taxation of SLT products in India. The effectiveness of taxation as a tobacco control policy is examined to see whether the price rises with an increase in taxation and whether it contributes to the price increase after adjustment for inflation so that consumption is significantly reduced. The growth of revenue from SLT products during the last 12 years (2000-2001-2012-2013) is discussed to examine how revenue increases with an increase in tax rate. In summary, the paper examines both the public health and revenue outcomes of the taxation of SLT products in India.

 » Data and Methods Top

Secondary data on tax structure, tax rate and revenue obtained from tobacco products were collected from the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. The tax rate on SLT products was analyzed for the period during 2008-2009-2013-2014. In order to measure the rise of prices corresponding to the increase in tax rate, the retail price index (RPI) and Wholesale Price Index (WPI) of SLT products were compared with the price index for all commodities for the period 2006-2012. The RPI and WPI data were obtained from the Labor Bureau, Ministry of Labor, Government of India and Ministry of Commerce, respectively. In order to measure the affordability of tobacco products, the in RPI or WPI is divided with the in per capita income. The ratio obtained provides the measure of affordability, and if the ratio increases over the years, the affordability diminishes and vice versa. Further, the revenue generated from SLT products is analyzed for the period 2000-2001-2011-2012 compared with the increase in tax rate This study did not estimate the price elasticity of demand for SLT. However using elasticity estimation of a previous study, [9] this measured the expected decline in the consumption of SLT products due to price rise.

 » Tax Structure of Smokeless Tobacco Top

Tobacco products in India are subject to the imposition of central excise duty and the central excise duty is either specific or ad valorem. Specific excise duty is imposed, on the basis of weight, length, volume, thickness of the product. In India, smoking products such as cigarettes or bidis are taxed according to the length and tax rate varies whether a cigarette is filtered or not. Ad valorem duty, on the other hand, is imposed on the basis of the percentage of the value of the product and SLT is taxed on an ad valorem basis.

The types of duties imposed by the central government are:

The central government imposes basic excise duty (BED), National Calamity Contingent duty (NCCD) and health CESS on tobacco products. In addition to this, central government imposes education cess on all manufactured tobacco products. Except the central government taxes, the state governments are imposing value added taxes from 2006 before which the states did not have power to impose any tax on tobacco products.

For SLT products, especially with regard to Pan Masala containing tobacco popularly known as Gutka, compounded levy scheme is applicable, in which, duty is imposed on the basis of capacity of the machine installed by the manufacturer. This practice is operational from 2008. Under this scheme, a manufacturer is required to pay excise duty at rates notified by the government against slabs based on retail sale price (RSP) of the pouch based on the number of machines operating in the factory for the purpose of packing of the gutka. The duty is imposed per machine and the duty rate varies according to the RSP of the product. Though in the initial years, the revenue showed increase from gutka, the practice of manufacturing multiple chewing products with the same retail price and weight made it difficult to administer the provision. Further, the manufacturers continued producing beyond the declared capacity of the machine leading to large scale tax evasion. The scheme ran into difficulty with a notification banning use of any form of plastics to pack tobacco products under the Plastic Waste (Management and handling) Rules.

Central excise duty

As presented in [Table 1], besides BED, Additional Excise Duty (AED) on pan masala known as Health Cess and NCCD are imposed on the SLT products. The total excise duty increases from 66% in 2008-2009 to 76% in 2013-2014. The increase is due to rise in the BED from 50% to 60% during this period without an increase in the AED and NCCD. It rises from 34% in 2004-2005 to 60% in 2013-2014 with an increase by almost two times during the period.
Table 1: Tax rate on smokeless tobacco products

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 » Excise Revenue from Smokeless Tobacco Top

The excise revenue from the chewing tobacco as shown in [Figure 1.1] has gone up in the last six years and the increase was pronounced from 2007 to 2008. This increased from Rs. 425 crore in 2000-2001 to Rs. 1429 crore in 2012-2013, but the rise was not consistent throughout the period. During 2000-2001-2003-2004, this increased, declined in 2004-2005, reached lowest in 2005-2006 and further started increasing in 2007-2008 onwards. Corresponding to increase in tax rate from 2007 to 2008, tax revenue enhanced. As a share in total revenue from tobacco products, the share of chewing tobacco was 7% during the period. The share of chewing tobacco in total tobacco revenue showed a similar trend as the growth of revenue. It increased up to 2003-2004, started declining in 2004-2005 and this decline continued up to 2006-2007 and increased afterwards [Figure 1.2]. It is evident that though the share increased after 2007-2008, the average share during 2000-2001-2005-2006 was higher than during 2006-2007-2011-2012. The average share was 8.05% during the former period where as this was 6.67% during the latter period. However, as share of total tax revenue, the share of chewing tobacco was very low (<1%).
Figure 1.1: Excise revenue from chewing tobacco (Rs in cr.). Includes chewing tobacco, Kara Massla and Kimam. Source: Directorate of Data Management, Customs and Central Excise, Ministry of Finance, Government of India

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Figure 1.2: Share of chewing tobacco in tobacco excise and government tax revenue. Source: Directorate of Data Management, Customs and Central Excise, Ministry of Finance, Government of India

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 » Increase in Tax Rate and Prices of Tobacco Products Top

With the increase in tax rates, tobacco prices should rise adequately to act as a deterrent to the consumers. In order to find out whether tobacco price rise corresponding to the increase in the tax rate, the WPI and RPI of SLT products are compared with all commodities of WPI and RPI. If the relative WPI of tobacco is >1 and increases over the years, the price of tobacco products rise more than the price of all commodities. As observed from [Figure 1.3], the relative WPI of zarda increased from 2005-2006 to 2010-2011 and there was a slight decline in the last two years i.e. 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. In spite of the decline, this is >1 indicating the price of zarda increased more than the price of all the commodities. However, the relative WPI of chewing tobacco is <1 showing the increase in price of chewing tobacco is less than the general increase in prices and further this declined over the period [Figure 1.3].
Figure 1.3 Relative WPI of smokeless tobacco products. http://www. Relative WPI is obtained by dividing WPI of the specific product by the WPI of all commodities in a given year

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Compared to this, the relative RPI of zarda shows fluctuating trends over the years. It started increasing from 2006-2007 to 2009-2010 and declined in 2010-2011 and further increased in 2012-2013 [Figure 1.4]. Overall, the price increase for zarda is more than the general price increase. However, the relative RPI of chewing tobacco is more than zarda in the last three years showing higher increase in prices of chewing tobacco than zarda. In spite of the fluctuations observed in some years, the price increase in SLT products is more than the prices of all commodities. This suggests the prices of SLT products are inflation adjusted over the years.
Figure 1.4: Relative retail price index of smokeless tobacco products

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 » Affordability of Smokeless Products Top

Besides monitoring the movement of tobacco prices, it is important to measure the affordability of tobacco product showing whether the price increase is sufficient to offset the income advantages enjoyed by the consumers. With the increase in the income, the affordability increases, causing rise in tobacco consumption in spite of an increase in prices due to the tax increase. Thus, both tax and prices should increase sufficiently to have an impact on tobacco consumption. One study estimating the affordability of cigarettes observed that cigarettes have become more affordable in low- and middle-income countries suggesting for a higher imposition of excise tax in order to make cigarettes less affordable. [11] Another study in India indicated that [12] affordability has increased across the products suggesting that the fraction of income required purchasing each unit of tobacco products has gone down over the years. With the rising per capita income witnessed over the past several years, it is essential to produce updated estimates on how the affordability of tobacco products has changed over the years. The affordability is estimated by dividing the RPI or WPI with the per capita income over the years. The ratio of RPI and WPI of SLT and per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is presented in [Table 2]. The ratio of WPI to per capita income for zarda and chewing tobacco declined during 2006-2012. Declining ratio indicated increasing affordability that suggested a rise in per capita income is more than prices of tobacco products. Though the affordability is increasing, the increase is less pronounced while using RPI in comparison to WPI. While using the RPI, the ratio fluctuated during the period for chewing tobacco. But for zarda, this declined during the period. Overall it is observed that affordability is increasing for the SLT. This is similar to what was observed in an earlier study [8] that suggested the affordability is increasing from 2001 to 2006.
Table 2: Affordability of smokeless products

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 » Discussion Top

In India, myriad varieties of SLT products are used. The excise duty imposed on an ad valorem basis has gone up in the last six years. Furthermore, prices of SLT products have gone up and as indicated from the analysis, the rate of increase in the price of SLT is more than a general increase in the prices. In spite of the higher increase in the price of SLT than the general prices, the affordability is increasing due to a higher increase in the per capita GDP than the price of SLT. The increase in affordability could outweigh the price rise while examining its impact on tobacco consumption. In this connection, it is important to examine whether the price rise has resulted in the reduction of SLT consumption. In order to estimate the expected decline in consumption due to increase in prices, the price elasticity estimated in an earlier study [9] is applied here. The increase in prices of the two most popular varieties of SLT products such as khaini and zarda are presented [Table 3]. Corresponding to a 58% rise in the prices of khaini, there is a 51% decline in the consumption during the period 2008-2013. Similarly, the price of zarda increased by 28% leading to a 24% decline in the consumption during the same period. Since the demand is inelastic, the increase in prices should be very large to influence the consumption.

Despite estimates showing declining consumption due to rise in prices, the increasing availability due to high rise in income and fraudulent practices adopted by the manufacturers act as a deterrent to the effective implementation of fiscal policy. A variety of SLT products such as khaini and zarda are manufactured with the aid of packing machine and are sold in pouches whose unit price is very low. Further, a compounded levy scheme is imposed on the SLT products manufactured with the aid of packing machine. Here, the excise tax is calculated on the basis of the capacity of the machine especially the number of pouches the machine could produce in a given time. However, the manufacturers produce beyond the capacity of the machine which is not taxed. This provides leeway to the producers to manipulate the prices and sale a significant proportion of products without any excise commitments. The recent ban on the use of plastic to pack tobacco products created difficulty in applying the scheme.
Table 3: Price and consumption of smokeless tobacco

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 » Conclusion Top

This study suggests that during the last five, years particularly after 2007-2008, the tax rate and the revenue from the SLT products have increased. However, the share of revenue is insignificant in comparison with the gross tax revenue of the government. The prices of SLT products have also gone up during this period. It is observed that the increase in prices of chewing tobacco and zarda is more than the increase in prices of all commodities. Increase in tobacco prices though appears to be a positive trend, increasing affordability, on the other hand, may offset the impact of price rise. This indicates that SLT products are more affordable to the consumers. Furthermore, this study applying the price elasticity of demand from one study observed that consumption of khaini and zarda declined due to the rise in prices. However, the decline is less in the case of zarda than khani. The decline is contingent upon the value of elasticity. Since the demand for tobacco products are inelastic in nature, an increase in prices should be large enough to influence the consumption significantly. For instance, in order to reduce the consumption by half, the price should increase by more than half. However, the change in affordability or higher increase in prices of SLT in comparison to other commodities may not influence the overall consumption of SLT largely due to availability of very low priced products and tax evasion by the manufacturers. Due to lack of standard product practices, SLT are produced in a variety of forms and are sold in small and individual sized packets. Furthermore, manufacturers evade tax to a large extent when they produce beyond what is stipulated by the authority in the compounded levy scheme. Therefore, in spite of price increase due to tax, the laxity in the administration and tactics used by the manufacturers lessens the effectiveness of tax in controlling SLT consumption in India. Recently, many state governments have banned sale, manufacturer, distribution of gutka and all its variants. However, enforcement of the law is weak, and manufacturers continue to produce manipulating the provisions of law. The recent ban in the use of plastic while packing any tobacco products created difficulty in the application of the compounded levy scheme in the case of SLT. Alternative provisions should be developed to collect tax from varieties of SLT used in the country.


The author alone is responsible for the views expressed in this article and they do not necessarily represent the views, decisions or policies of the institutions with which they are affiliated.

 » References Top

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  [Figure 1.1], [Figure 1.2], [Figure 1.3], [Figure 1.4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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