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Gov’t smoke signals on tobacco tax

A tuk tuk driver smokes a cigarette in the capital earlier this year while waiting for customers.
A tuk tuk driver smokes a cigarette in the capital earlier this year while waiting for customers. Pha Lina

Gov’t smoke signals on tobacco tax

A year after bumping rates by 10 per cent, the Ministry of Economy and Finance is eyeing another tax increase on tobacco products.

The news came yesterday at the unveiling of a new report on the nation’s smoking habits, which found that while smokers declined as a proportion of the total population – from 19.5 per cent in 2011 to 16.9 per cent in 2014 – the number of male smokers grew from 1.34 million to 1.55 million in the same period.

The report, compiled by the Ministry of Planning, found that the heaviest smokers can be found among people between 45 and 64 years of age, 47 per cent of whom have a habit. Only 4 per cent of them managed to quit in the past 12 months.

“The increase of male smokers demonstrates that the tobacco industry has more influence on the people of a developing country like Cambodia, in particular among male youths, who are an important resource and [source of] labour for the country’s development,” the report said.

The report, which was echoed by health groups yesterday, blamed still-high smoking rates on the cheapness and wide availability of cigarettes. The study also found that passive smoke inhalation remains a problem in restaurants, state institutions, public places and health facilities.

Cambodia has the second-lowest cigarette tax rates in ASEAN – 22 per cent for local products and 28 per cent for imports. In contrast, Thailand has a 70 per cent tax on cigarettes.

A 12-person team assembled by the Finance Ministry will now study tobacco tax law to come up with a new tax schedule. Several health experts praised the plan yesterday.

“Raising tobacco tax is one of the most effective strategies to reduce tobacco consumption and increase government revenue,” said Dr Mom Kong, executive director of NGO Cambodia Movement for Health.

Kong cited studies by the World Bank in pointing out that a 10 per cent increase in tobacco tax leads to a 4 per cent reduction in smoker prevalence in developed countries and 8 per cent in developing countries. Year-to-year figures are as yet unavailable to track the knock-on effects of Cambodia’s 2014 tax increase.

World Health Organization representative James Rarick said that raising cigarette prices is a good move but it should be paired with educating youth and children about the dangers of smoking.

Cambodia Movement for Health research released in September found that 30 Cambodians die of smoking-related diseases every day, while the nation’s smokers spend more than $100 million on cigarettes annually.

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