WHO calls for heavy taxes on tobacco products

The east African Community (EAC) governments should increase taxes on tobacco products to discourage smoking.

The east African Community (EAC) governments should increase taxes on tobacco products to discourage smoking.

According to the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, taxes on tobacco products are low in East Africa, which makes it easy for many people to buy cigarettes. This increases the risk of catching cancer and other related diseases, the centre, which is an arm of the World Health Organisation, noted.

It added that, besides reducing tobacco consumption, taxing the sector heavily would help EAC countries raise revenue for programmes that advance public health.

“Taxation policies on tobacco products are less stringent in Africa than in other parts of the world…EAC states should adopt tax and price measures that are more effective in reducing tobacco consumption,” Possy Mugyenyi, the centre manager, said during a seminar in Kigali recently.

The seminar attracted over 100 dignitaries, including health officials and politicians from the region to discuss measures of curbing tobacco use in the fight against cancer.

“We must also ban the tobacco advertisement and sponsorships and use of all marketing strategies by the industry to reduce tobacco use,” Mugyenyi said.

All five EAC member states are party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but only Kenya has a comprehensive tobacco control law in place. Cigarettes attract the highest consumption tax in Rwanda at 150 per cent, followed by gas, oil and lubricants at 76 per cent, with liquors and wines at 70 per cent.

However, since tobacco farmers are not registered by Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation, it is hard to sensitise them on the dangers of the produce, according to Narcisse Ndagijimana, the agriculture division director at the federation.

“Tobacco is not widely grown in Rwanda…the crop has been the source of livelihood for some Rwandans for decades. But we plan to enhance sensitisation campaigns, train and teach them on how to grow alternative crops,” Ndagijimana said in a phone interview.

Statistics by WHO indicate that tobacco kills one-third of all lifetime users, while tobacco-related illnesses account for one in 10 adult deaths.

It is also estimated that 600,000 individuals die annually from exposure to secondary smoke and that the majority of secondhand smoke deaths are among women and children.

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