Raise Taxes on Tobacco, Reduce Use & Save Lives
Media Release – National Council Against Smoking:
28 May 2014: On World No-Tobacco Day (31 May), the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on governments to raise tobacco taxes so as to reduce tobacco use and save lives.
Higher taxes are especially effective in encouraging the young not to start, or to quit using tobacco. When tobacco products are cheap youngsters can easily afford to buy them, but when they are expensive youth can find better ways to spend their money. For instance, research shows that as mobile phone usage has gone up amongst teenagers in the UK, smoking went down. Teens preferred using their money to ‘chat’ and SMS friends then wasting it on cigarettes.
The World Bank advices that increasing excise taxes on tobacco products is the most cost-effective tobacco control measure available to governments. Higher taxes both increase government revenues and reduce consumption.
Despite this, tobacco tax rates are comparatively low in South Africa. WHO recommends that taxes should equal 70% of the retail price of cigarettes and the World Bank that it should be between 66% to 80% of the retail price. The tobacco tax rate in this country is well below these recommendations –at 52% of the retail price. In the past 14 years the tax rate has increased insignificantly from 50% to 52% of the retail price.
There is room to significantly increase tobacco excise tax rates in South Africa and this will result in both higher tax revenues for the government and lower smoking rates.
Opposition to tobacco tax increases is mainly based on the fear that tax increases will fuel smuggling. The link between the illicit trade in tobacco and excise tax rates is at best weak. Countries with high tobacco tax rates often have lower levels of smuggling than countries with low tax levels.
In the past decade, smuggling has increased in South Africa despite the Treasury’s ultra conservative tobacco excise tax policy. Keeping the tax rate low did not prevent smuggling. By contrast, in the UK- where the tax level is between 77 to 88% of the retail price – smuggling has decreased because of strong enforcement policies and smoking amongst children has also declined. Clearly, artificially keeping taxes low is not the solution to the problem of tobacco smuggling.
World No Tobacco Day is an appropriate occasion for the Health and Finance Ministries to review tobacco excise tax policy and bring it into line with WHO recommendations so as to better serve society.
World No Tobacco Day is also an appropriate occasion for smokers to make a fresh start and reduce their addiction to tobacco. For those seeking to reduce the costs of tobacco use to their health and wealth, free assistance in quitting is available from the Quitline on 011 720-3145.
- Between 1993 and 2009 in South Africa real (inflation adjusted) excise taxes increased by 378%, government tobacco excise revenue by 220%, tobacco industry revenue by 69% and the number of smokers fell by 33%.
- WHO estimates that the global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people each year, of which more than 600 000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the epidemic will kill more than 8 million people every year by 2030.
- The Medical Research Council of SA estimates that cigarette smoking killed 45 000 South Africans in 2000.
Queries National Council Against Smoking
Dr Yussuf Saloojee
Tel: 011-725 1514
National Council Against Smoking Quitline:
Tel: 011 720-3145