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Tobacco lost to smuggling, survey shows

Government data show that significant amounts of tobacco are being smuggled out of the country each year, health and economics experts said yesterday.

A national tobacco survey from 2011, the exact numbers of which remain confidential, shows that more tobacco is produced in Cambodia than is consumed, and much of the difference comes from smuggling rather than legal exports, said World Health Organization’s tobacco economics unit head Dr Ayda Yurekli at a press conference yesterday.

Yurekli and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEASTCA) representatives at the conference also repeated their call of the previous day that Cambodia and other low-tax neighbours like Laos increase tobacco taxes by more than than 10 per cent to have a significant impact on public health.

“As the taxes increase, there may be incentive not to smuggle tobacco out,” Yurekli said.

Moreover, international data show that tax increases would not encourage the smuggling of tobacco into the country, said Dr Ulysses Dorothea, project director of the Southeast Asia Initiative on Tobacco Tax.

He cited data from Europe in recent decades showing that high tobacco prices do not correlate with more smuggling, as well as Canadian data showing that lower taxes did not reduce black market trade.

Yurekli added that a tax increase would do little to hurt tobacco workers in the long run, although they might see some short-term impact “because of technology, as tobacco growers shift from labour-intensive toward capital-intensive methods of production.”

The conference followed a government and WHO meeting about tobacco taxation on Monday.

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