Abuja — The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has canvassed the immediate imposition of a minimum of 150 per cent special levies on all tobacco products.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had, in a circular to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) two weeks ago, announced a raise of import duty on tobacco from 20 per cent to 60 per cent. Other products that also had their duties reviewed upwards are imported rice, sugarcane, cassava products and salt, among others.
However, ERA/FoEN through its Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi argued the new policy falls short of recommendations by public health experts adding the nation stands to gain from imposing higher taxes and other levies on tobacco if done with public health in mind.
Said he: "We again re-echo our call that tobacco should be totally excluded from grants and other government incentives. We demand that the government instead go beyond the announced duties by imposing 150 per cent levies on locally-produced and imported tobacco products. Anything short of this is cosmetic.
"The new circular ranks tobacco with rice, salt, medicine and other daily needs. Tobacco is not food. Tobacco is not just a product but a lethal one that needs special attention."
Noting the measure "incentivizes" local consumption of the deadly product, the group argued that the call for the imposition of higher levies on tobacco products would serve as a means of raising revenue and curb the consumption and health impacts of tobacco use.
The group believes that on the surface the new policy looks promising but a deep analysis shows it offers subtle protection for local tobacco companies which already controls 90 per cent of the Nigerian market and will now produce more to addict the youths.
It noted: "We commend the listing of tobacco among luxury goods deserving higher duties. We however feel that the measure falls short of what is needed to reduce consumption of tobacco products instead it further cushions the local environment for production and consumption.
"We have consistently urged government to look the way of special levies, high excise and high duties on tobacco products, only a consolidated tax regime and the complete removal of all incentives and grants could end the indirect subsidy on smoking by the Nigerian government."
Oluwafemi explained that government decision to leave out locally-produced tobacco from the high taxes or levies regime is an indication of disconnect between the Ministries of Finance and Health and would be counter-productive as other tobacco companies like would start considering building new factories in Nigeria to produce their lethal products to worsen the current health burden of the nation.