DO TAX INCREASES ON TOBACCO HURT THE POOR ?
Does raising taxes on cigarettes and tobacco actually give governments in Africa the extra money they predict every year, and reduce the number of smokers in the region? Increases in tobacco taxes are widely regarded as a highly effective strategy for reducing tobacco use and its consequences. This strategy is effective and can lead to significant improvements in public health,but does an increase in the tobacco excise tax place an unjustified economic burden on the poor?
Do tax increases have a disproportionately detrimental impact on poor smokers? In most African countries, smoking prevalence is higher among lower socio-economic groups,poorer smokers tend to spend a greater proportion of their income on tobacco than richer smokers. Given the case ,one could argue that cigarette taxes are regressive. Given that regressive taxes are undesirable from a social equity perspective, it would be unwise to further increase taxes. I was looking at what cessation services Governments in Africa offer to smokers , who pay these increased taxes every year, unsurprisingly there is little to none . Tobacco control organizations understand that pushing for laws that increase Government revenue is something any government would be keen on. Is this a strategy meant only to make Governments rich ? It’s quite shocking that Tobacco Control advocates openly push for a ban on harm reduction products , yet cigarettes remain legal.Do Governments really want to do away with the tobacco epidemic or would they rather let cigarettes remain accessible due to revenues from taxes?I’m sure if I mention tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping I will be considered a Big Tobacco employee LOL .
Few studies have empirically investigated the regressivity of the cigarette excise taxes, and specifically the impact of changes in cigarette taxes and prices on the distribution of the burden of the tax. Today’s tobacco tax increases make cigarettes even more expensive, causing financial pain for many low-income smokers who are unable to quit. The tax on tobacco in African countries has almost quadrupled since 2010 and is helping to fill government coffers.Most remaining smokers are addicted to nicotine and prioritise their cigarette purchase at any price, often sacrificing household essentials like food. At these unprecedented price levels, it is unclear if further price rises have a net public health benefit.
A diminishing effect from tobacco tax rises may be one explanation for the increase of smokers in Africa despite cigarette price hikes. The number of smokers has risen in recent years in spite of high prices and pictorial warnings. Low-income smokers are most affected. They have much higher smoking rates, are more heavily addicted and find it much harder to quit than more affluent people.Some switch to less quality cigarettes which worsen their health.
There are other strategies which may be more effective and fairer. One of those solutions is to make a less harmful alternatives available, such as electronic cigarettes or Swedish snus. E-cigarettes deliver the nicotine smokers are addicted to and simulate the hand-to-mouth ritual. E-cigarettes have helped millions of smokers quit overseas and appear to be contributing to the rapid decline of smoking in countries such as the UK and US.E-cigarettes could also relieve the financial stress of low income smokers who are unable to quit. Harm reduction is a cost effective solution to the smoking epidemic , if only we would embrace it.