Stakeholders express need for increases in tax on tobacco and alcohol

Participants at a day’s stakeholders meeting has expressed the need for the government to increase taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened products to raise revenue and to protect the lives of the citizenry.

It was attended by representatives of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Ghana Police Service, the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, Ghana Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance and other civil society organisations (CSOs).

The meeting was organised by the Vision for Alternative Development and Ghana Tax Advocacy Network for Health Promotion, non –governmental organisations and supported by the Framework Convention Alliance and the Norwegian Cancer Society.

Mr Divine D. Logo at the Research Division of the Ghana Health Service who presented rapid assessment findings on tobacco, alcohol and sugar products said the demand for the products could be reduced through taxation and pricing mechanisms.

He said government must implement specific or combined specific and ad-valerom tax regime, while effectively implementing and enforcing the existing national law or policy to prevent involuntary exposure especially the youth.

“Enforce the law to prohibit sales of single sticks of cigarettes and ban the sale of alcoholic drinks in sachet or tot,” he said.

Mr Logo said government should develop mass-reach health communications campaigns that use multiple media formats; including; hard-hitting or graphic images; which would be intended to change knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of tobacco users while providing users with information on how to quit.

He said there was the need for the government to develop an effective policy on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) to protect the public especially children and the youth by undertaking immediate and concerted effort to regulate or ban advertisements on SSBs on television, radio, billboards, the internet, among others to reduce consumption.

“The FDA must make it mandatory for companies to list the number of calories per bottle or can on the front of all beverages to create some level of awareness about the dangers,” he said, adding that water is the best for SSBs.

Mr Logo said Ghana as a country needed a nationwide study on the impact of cigarette, alcohol, and SSBs for effective policy decision making.

Dr Mrs Olivia Agyekumwaa Boateng, Head, Tobacco and Substances Abuse Department of the Food and Drugs Authority who made a presentation said there were measures to control accessibility and exposure of tobacco to the youth.

She said all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion, direct and indirect are prohibited and tobacco industry cannot engage in any form of sponsorship of any activity such as sponsorship of beauty pageants, and university hall week events.

She said a responsibility has been placed on all persons that sell tobacco products to have a health warning at every place the product is sold and that the warning should be determined by the FDA.

Dr Mrs Boateng said tobacco sale is prohibited at pro-health institutions and educational institutions and vending through certain machines. “These restrictions seek to protect children from exposure to tobacco products by prohibiting children from selling tobacco products or buying tobacco products or lighting smokeable tobacco product,” she said.

She said: “Selling of tobacco, smokeless tobacco or any toy, confectionery or a product that resembles a tobacco product attract a fine of GH¢25,000.00,” adding that: “These prohibitions have shown to be effective in reducing the demand for tobacco and consequently the harmful effects of tobacco smoke and consumption.

Dr Mrs Boateng said the FDA was committed to using the smoke-free provisions in the Tobacco Control Measures and Tobacco Control Regulations to reduce social acceptability of tobacco use, promote cessation, help users to quit and prevent initiation, especially among the youth thus improving the quality of life of Ghanaians.

Mr Eric Asare of Customs Policy and Programmes Department of the Customs Division who made a presentation on tobacco, alcoholic beverages and sugar imports said for the purpose of unhealthy products a ‘Six Tax’ which is relatively high tax has been designed to raise revenue while reducing consumption of a socially undesirable products.

He said: “The tax is to discourage harmful behavior and to make personal behavior more expensive.” Mr Labram Musah, Director, VALD and the Coordinator of Tax Advocacy Network for Health Promotion said a study undertaken showed that tobacco and alcoholic products were amongst the cheapest products in Ghana.

“A stick of cigarette cost the smoker 20 pesewas (pack of 10 sticks is GH¢2.00), a sachet of alcohol cost the drinker GH¢1.00 and the low cost is targeted at the youth, poor and the vulnerable groups in the country,” he said.

He said patronage of the products lead to sicknesses such as non-communicable diseases, cancers, heart disease, blindness, among others, and were the leading cause of deaths, disabilities in the world today.

Mr Musah said Ghana’s fax of 16.06 per cent excise tax as a percentage of cigarette prices could be increased significantly to meet the WHO benchmark of a minimum of 70 per cent of retail price.

He said the increases on tobacco, alcohol and sugar sweetened beverages would be a “win-win for health and the economy.”