The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Health Ministry Calls for Increase in Tobacco Taxes

As the minister of Finance prepares to read this year's national budget on Thursday, the ministry of Health has called for an increase in taxes on tobacco in order to cut down on smoking and reduce thousands of health complications that tobacco causes each year.

The ministry of Health argues that an increase in tax usually forces smokers to quit; it reduces the uptake and use of tobacco products by the youth; and it ultimately lowers consumption rates among continuing users. Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the minister of Health, says that every 10 per cent increase in price leads to 8 per cent decrease in consumption. Half of this decrease is attributed to adults quitting smoking and the youth not taking up tobacco products. The other half is due to people who continue to smoke.

Last year, Maria Kiwanuka, the minister of Finance, increased excise duty on cigarettes to Shs 32,000 from Shs 22,000 for Soft cup (whose local content is more than 70 per cent of its constituents), to Shs 35,000 from Shs 25,000 for other soft cup and to Shs 69,000 from Shs 55,000 for Hinge lid respectively. Rugunda said "taxes on tobacco should be raised annually as this serves the dual purpose of promoting public health and generating more revenue. Government should also allocate a proportion of tax revenue to tobacco control and other health-related programmes."

Rugunda was speaking during a pre-event to commemorate world no tobacco day celebrated on May 31 every year. The day is intended to encourage a 24-hour abstinence period from all forms of tobacco consumption across the globe.

This year's theme was, 'raise taxes on tobacco products; lower deaths.' Dr Possy Mugenyi, the manager of the Center for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA), said failing to raise tobacco taxes means that smoking rates fall at a much slower rate.

Uganda still lags behind the World Health Organization's (WHO) tax benchmark of 70 per cent.

Statistics from CTCA indicate that nearly 13,500 people die every year in Uganda due to tobacco-related diseases. Moreover, tobacco is related to 71 per cent of lung cancer, 42 per cent of chronic respiratory diseases and 10 per cent of heart and blood vessel diseases. Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the health ministry's tobacco focal point person, says that every day, about 80 youth experiment with tobacco products and more than half of these smoke their first cigarette.

Approximately, 75 per cent of all youth in Uganda have used smokeless tobacco products such as kuber, she said. Smokeless tobacco is a known cause of oral and pancreatic cancer. Currently, the Tobacco Control Bill 2014 is undergoing public debate. The bill proposes an increase in the tax of tobacco products, prohibition of the sale and importation of duty free tobacco products, a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and the ban of selling tobacco products to minors among others.

However, a joint statement from tobacco producing companies in the country, which includes British American Tobacco (BAT), Ugandan Tobacco Services Ltd and Continental Tobacco (U) Ltd, notes that if the bill is passed in its present form, government is likely to lose Shs 100bn in revenue.

"The law must make a distinction between the products sought to be regulated and the individual corporate entity that enjoys fundamental rights and freedoms. The law should not seek to ban legitimate trade activities," reads the statement.

The Tobacco Control bill was supposed to have been passed into law in 2012.

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