Government plans to halve tobacco cultivation in 10 years

The health ministry is also understood to be keen on banning import of Cigarettes and tobacco products. On the production phaseout plan, a detailed note is ...

NEW DELHI: In a move that will have a major impact on tobacco companies, the government is working on a plan to halve tobacco cultivation in 10 years. The idea is to enable farmers to diversify to other crops in view of the health risks associated with tobacco consumption. The Tobacco Board is doing the groundwork for Reduction of tobacco cultivation while a detailed package is being worked out to provide compensation to farmers, government sources said. The move is in line with steps taken by the US, EU and Australia to curtail production of tobacco—consideRed a major cause of cancer and related ailments. The compensation plan for tobacco farmers will require More than Rs 2,400 crore years. One proposal being consideRed is to levy a 5 paise cess on each cigarette stick, which could yield nearly Rs 500 crore per annum. This money would be used to encourage farmers to switch from drought-resistant, risk-averse crops to other farm produce. The government is in touch with agricultural colleges and institutes to decide on the crops that could be grown in the same climatic conditions as tobacco. Minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh told ET: “From the health point of view, curtailing tobacco is important. At the same time, we should keep the interests of farmers in mind. The Tobacco Board is taking pro-active steps to divert tobacco consumption to non-carcinogenic uses in pharma, for which research is on in US universities.” The move comes close on the heels of health minister Anbumani Ramdoss’ plans to discourage tobacco consumption through ominous pictorial warnings on packs of tobacco products and ban on smoking scenes in movies. The government has already made smoking in public places a punishable offence. The health ministry is also understood to be keen on banning import of Cigarettes and tobacco products. On the production phaseout plan, a detailed note is being circulated within the government. Some 1.5 million kg of tobacco is auctioned to companies every year. The industry is, however, smug about the whole thing. “It will take years to implement the programme, and at worse, the industry can always resort to imports, in which case, Cigarettes would become expensive because of prohibitive duties,” an industry source said. As of now, ITC, with 65% share of the market, does not import tobacco nor does the second-largest player, Godfrey Phillips.

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