Tobacco control advocates in Uganda have appealed to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to raise tobacco taxes because it is a WHO proven intervention to control the effects of tobacco and its use.
The team, from the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa ( CTCA) and WHO, led by the Director of the Centre also Dean of the School of Public Health, Prof. William Bazeyo, was meeting the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury in Uganda, Mr. Keith Muhakanizi, with the technical team from the Ministry.
Prof. William Bazeyo underscored the importance of increasing tobacco taxes noting that not only would the government earn more revenue to support other sectors like health, it would also reduce the number of users of tobacco products, and consequently reduce tobacco’s negative impact. He said Uganda is one of the few countries where tobacco prices are highly affordable and as such, many young people have taken on the habit of smoking.
The manager of the Centre, Dr. Possy Mugyenyi, explained that while in the past, tobacco was linked mainly to Non–communicable Diseases (NCDs), the latest studies indicate that it also impacts on communicable diseases like HIV/ AIDS and Tuberculosis, exposing the country to a double epidemic. He said the other worrying trend is that while the number of male adults using tobacco products is decreasing, the number of both male and female young smokers is increasing, which is partly due to the affordable prices. However an increase in tobacco taxes, would greatly help to control this trend.
WHO’s tax economist Mr. Kofi Nti noted that within the East African region, outside Tanzania, Uganda has the least taxes on tobacco. He said that for the last five years, cigarette prices have not changed in Uganda, despite the yearly inflation rates, an indication that the government is actually subsidizing the Tobacco Industry to encourage young people to initiate smoking, and other smokers to continue smoking by maintaining low prices. He further revealed that revenue contribution from tobacco products to total government revenue and total excise revenue has been falling. Mr. Kofi cited an example of tobacco tax contribution to the total government tax revenue which has dropped from a peak of 5.3% in the fiscal year 1993/94 to only 0.9% in 2010/11, while the contribution to excise tax revenue has reduced from 49.5% to 14% during the same period.
The Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Keith Muhakanizi reiterated his Ministry’s commitment to supporting tobacco control initiatives adding that his technical team will review the proposal and provide the advocates with feedback.
Uganda’s tobacco tax rate currently stands at 37% of the average retail price, as compared to neighboring Kenya which is at 50%, and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommended rate of 70% of the retail price of cigarettes.