Speech contest promotes higher tobacco taxes
Covid-19 may be scary, but it’s not as scary as another hidden danger that kills more than 480,000 people each year, said Sim Srey Leap of Net Yang High School in Battambang province, which won the first prize in the competition “Measures to increase taxes on tobacco” public speaking competition.
Srey Leap said at the May 23 event, which attracted top students from across the Kingdom, smoking had cost the national economy dearly and pushed families into poverty.
“After seeing such an impact, Cambodia needs to increase tobacco taxes. Today, tobacco taxes in Cambodia are only 25-31%, which is lower than other Asian countries,” she said. “Cambodia should raise taxes by at least 75% above the retail price.”
The high school student said that according to the government’s plan, it is not possible to immediately increase taxes up to 75%. But she noted that it could become a reality if the government appeals to the people’s understanding of the harms and dangers of smoking and how it threatens the development of the country.
Roth Channet from the University of Puthisastra, who came second in the competition, noted that May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. She said she “wondered how many times the world has to mark this day before the dream of a tobacco-free world becomes a reality”.
“I think that with the risks posed by cigarette smoke, Cambodia should not hesitate to increase tobacco taxes. If Cambodia raises taxes, disease and death rates from smoking will drop and the country’s economy will grow,” she said.
Citing the 2021 survey by National Meanchey University, Channet added that around 94% of Cambodians supported a 62% increase in tobacco taxes.
Ray Rany, tobacco and alcohol officer at the Department of Health’s National Center for Health Promotion, said while chairing the competition that the Tobacco Control Commission presented the National Strategic Plan on Education and Tobacco Reduction 2021-2026, and that the plan will soon be implemented in Cambodia.
“This tobacco tax policy is a win-win strategy that will reduce the rate of tobacco consumption in Cambodia. We see the strategy of increasing tobacco taxes as a winning strategy – a strategy that increases national budget revenue and reduces tobacco use or the ability to purchase tobacco products,” she said. .
Citing World Bank research and echoing Srey Leap’s proposal, Rany said Cambodia should raise tobacco taxes to 75% of its retail price. Currently, tobacco tax rates in the Kingdom are just under half of World Bank recommendations.
“In this world there is only one [type of] tobacco that kills and is legal… The World Health Organization (WHO) wants tobacco to be classified as an illegal product, but it is difficult to make this a reality because many people in the world are dependent,” says Rany.
State Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Thea Kruy, said Cambodia has used many means to reduce smoking and raising taxes should always be a last resort. “Raising taxes is the driving factor in reducing the number of smokers…I support this idea, but education is still very important in stopping or reducing smoking,” he said.
Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Van Puthipol, who is also deputy head of the General Department of Taxation (GDT), said that although he favors the idea of the taxation in theory, he noted that it could fail due to the possibility of high rates of tax evasion as Cambodia imports most of its tobacco products.
“Our country is not a cigarette producer. We mainly import cigarettes. Thus, the risks of tax evasion are high through smuggling and our income will not increase,” he said.
Instead of raising taxes, authorities should institute an advertising ban, he added, along with initiatives to help smokers quit, and suggested that cigarette packs carry government health warnings. .
He also said that while raising taxes “really matters”, it should be a last resort, adding that deterring young people from starting to smoke should be the priority.
The NGO Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) said in a statement that raising the tax has been the most effective measure to reduce tobacco-related deaths and economic cost. Cambodia ranks fourth in the world for the lowest tobacco taxes, he said.
“If Cambodia increases the tax to 75% of the retail price of cigarettes on the recommendations of the WHO and the World Bank, Cambodia will receive an additional $235 million in income tax over the next five years and $933 million over the next 15 years,” the statement read.