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NGO: Tax raise a must to lower tobacco deaths

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Cigarette packages are displayed at a cafe in Phnom Penh in May. Hong Menea

NGO: Tax raise a must to lower tobacco deaths

The NGO Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) said Cambodia ranks fourth in the world for the lowest taxes on tobacco.

According to recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank, if Cambodia increased the tax on tobacco to 75 per cent of the retail price of cigarettes, the Kingdom would receive added revenues of $235 million over the next five years and $933 million over the next 15 years.

CMH executive director Dr Mom Kong told The Post on December 27 that raising the tax on tobacco products was the most effective measure to reduce the number of deaths and the economic losses caused by tobacco.

“Raising the tax on tobacco products is globally seen as a win-win strategy.

“The first benefit is that the state will collect additional tax revenue. The second benefit is reducing people’s health risk caused by smoking cigarettes, which can lead to various diseases, loss of life and disability,” he said.

He said that when any family member becomes ill, disabled or dies, it leads to misery within that family and throughout society. And it also leads to the loss of human resources and to many other problems.

In the ASEAN region, Cambodia has the lowest taxes on tobacco products of any country, he added.

Cambodia only imposes a 25 per cent tax on domestic cigarettes and a 31 per cent tax on imported cigarettes.

In Thailand, the tax rate on the retail price of cigarettes goes up to 70 per cent while Singapore’s retail tax is at 69 per cent. Even in other neighbouring countries, the retail tax rate on cigarettes is around 40 to 50 per cent.

“Increasing tax, which is one of the best practices recommended by WHO, increases tax revenue and reduces the people’s burden. It would mean an increase in the tax on tobacco products to about two thirds [of their retail cost] or the equivalent of roughly 70 per cent of the retail price,” he said.

“Some countries, such as Thailand and Singapore, have increased their tax rates. Only [Cambodia] has this huge gap [with other ASEAN countries] regarding [tobacco] tax rates.

“So, what we need is to significantly increase the tax for tobacco products, according to the government’s willingness and in line with the WHO’s recommendations,” he said.

He said that according to a study by the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and WHO ... [approximately] 15,000 Cambodians die from illnesses caused by tobacco use each year. This means that about 40 people die per day in Cambodia due to smoking cigarettes.

Tobacco use in Cambodia also causes the loss of up to $649 million a year, which is equivalent to three per cent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product. $584 million of that total is lost due to economic productivity losses, premature deaths and declining productivity.

At the same time, Kong has also observed that in recent years the banning of smoking in the workplace, shops, restaurants and other public places has increased significantly in accordance with changes in Cambodian law.

“We have cooperated with some relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Tourism. The ministry has conducted some [compliance] checks and has even urged small stores to implement a smoking ban. We have seen that much has changed already and we are proud of the work we’ve done. But it has yet to reach the level [of progress] that we want,” he said.

According to the CMH, of the 10 ASEAN countries, Cambodia had the highest second-hand cigarette smoke inhalation rates in its restaurants and most of the people affected are children and women.

Prohibiting cigarettes in the workplace or public places not only prevented non-smokers from inhaling second-hand smoke, but it also helped smokers reduce their habit and have an easier time quitting smoking.

According to the Health Ministry last year, most Cambodians had by now learnt about the dangers of tobacco products – even those who still continued to use them were well aware of the potential hazard to their health.

The rate of tobacco use among people aged 18 and over has declined by 13.68 per cent over the last 10 years, from 48.98 per cent to 35.3 per cent for men; and by 8.93 per cent for women from 20.53 per cent to 11.6 per cent of the population.

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