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1 per cent of GDP lost, 49 per cent of young adults consume tobacco: KPMG report

India’s rapid economic growth has astonished economists and financial experts, with top global rating agencies forecasting that India will be the fastest-growing economy among the G-20 nations in 2024. In recent quarters, India’s economy expanded at rates of 7.8% in Q1, 7.6% in Q2, and 8.4% in Q3.

However, a significant issue is undermining this progress: the economic burden of tobacco use. A report by KPMG Assurance and Consulting Services, titled “Human-Centric Approach to Tobacco Control,” reveals that India loses approximately 1% of its GDP annually due to diseases and premature deaths caused by tobacco use. Despite being the second-largest tobacco user globally, it is the highly productive age group of 20-44-year-olds that is most affected.

According to the KPMG 2023 survey on tobacco consumption, around 49% of respondents in this age group consume tobacco in both smoking and oral forms. Dr. Narender Saini, Former General Secretary of the Indian Medical Association, highlights the dual impact of tobacco use, stating, “Tobacco use affects both health and the economy. The burden of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality has been on the rise. Respiratory ailments, cardiovascular diseases, and various forms of cancer dominate the landscape, claiming lives prematurely. The economic ramifications are equally profound. Families grappling with the consequences of tobacco-related diseases face financial hardship, often pushing many households into poverty. It is worrisome to see men in their prime age report with major lung impairment due to tobacco use. And it is sad that some of these breadwinners succumb to lung diseases.”

The report further indicates that India faces a dual challenge with both smoking and oral tobacco use. With 250 million smokers aged 16 to 64 as of 2018, India has the second-highest number of tobacco users. Legally produced cigarettes account for just 8% of the overall tobacco consumed, with the remaining 92% coming from cheaper tobacco products such as bidis, chewing tobacco, and khaini.

Dr. Chhavi Gupta, DM – Infectious Disease, Senior Consultant at Yashoda Super-specialty Hospital, Kaushambi, Ghaziabad, emphasizes the need for technological solutions to combat tobacco use, stating, “Efforts should be made to harness the power of technology that can amplify outreach efforts.” Dr. Gupta also stresses the importance of making Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) affordable and accessible.

The issue is further compounded by the rise of illicit cigarette trade in India. A 2022 study by FICCI Cascade estimates that the illegal cigarette market in India is worth Rs 22,930 crore, causing the Indian government to lose Rs 13,331 crore due to the illicit tobacco industry in 2022—a 46% increase from 2012.

The KPMG report suggests that a diverse array of alternative products and cessation techniques has proven effective in helping individuals quit tobacco. It calls for a holistic and collaborative approach involving all stakeholders—producers, consumers, regulatory agencies, public health professionals, and support groups.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has included NRT products in the National Tobacco Control Program, emphasizing their importance as harm reduction tools. Encouragingly, over 15 states have enforced some form of ban on the manufacturing and sale of oral tobacco products.

The KPMG report concludes, “It is imperative and critical for India to have a holistic roadmap towards tobacco harm reduction. There must also be proactive steps to promote collaboration between the government, public health experts, regulators, consumers, healthcare practitioners, among other stakeholders to develop innovative and effective harm reduction methods and alternatives.”

India’s fight against tobacco use remains crucial to safeguarding both its public health and economic future.

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