Tobacco tax experts from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam met in Siem Reap province yesterday to discuss how to maximise tobacco tax revenue in Asean.
The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) held a workshop to exchange information about how to best manage the collection of tax throughout the region.
The world’s first Tobacco Tax Index by SEATCA tracked tobacco tax revenues and shows that while some countries have made significant progress in formulating and implementing tobacco tax policies, the region as a whole advanced slowly in the past few years, outpaced by economic and income growth.
“Most countries have no long-term tobacco tax policies with regularly adjusted fiscal and public health targets,” said Sophapan Ratanachena, SEATCA’s tobacco tax programme manager.
“Important obstacles in some countries are their ineffective tobacco tax structures, weak tax administration and tobacco industry interference designed to weaken government policies or reduce collection efforts.”
Thailand currently has the highest taxes as a percentage of retail price (70 percent), followed closely by Singapore (66.2 percent) and Brunei (62 percent).
In contrast, countries with the lowest tax burdens are Cambodia (25-31.1 percent) and Laos (16-19.7 percent).
“Legislating substantial tax increases, strengthening tobacco tax administration and protecting tax policy from tobacco industry interference are equally important for saving lives, raising revenues and controlling illicit trade,” said Ms Ratanachena.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng said that stressing the harmful effects of tobacco was the way to go.
“It is important we focus on people’s health,” Mr Bunheng said. “If people think about their health, they are likely to reduce their tobacco intake.”
He then appealed to those who had not yet taken up the habit. “If you don’t yet smoke, please don’t learn how to,” he said.
Mom Kong, executive director of the Cambodia Movement for Health, said Cambodia’s relatively low tax rate reflected badly on the country.
“The rate of tax is so low that it is sure to have a damaging effect on the population’s health,” said Mr Kong.
Thousands of people die each year due to smoking tobacco, he added.