Raise taxes to lower tobacco use in Oman, say Majlis Al Shura members

Oman Friday 06/May/2016 20:11 PM
By: Times News Service
Raise taxes to lower tobacco use in Oman, say Majlis Al Shura members

Muscat: Calls to increase taxes on tobacco in Oman have grown louder as members of the Majlis Al Shura have requested the government to implement an earlier proposal made by the Ministry of Health (MoH) to impose local taxes on tobacco.
“We have requested an increase in taxes to up to 200 per cent, Mohammed Baqi, member of the Health Committee at Majlis Al Shura told the Times of Oman (TOO). “If we can reach 200 per cent, that would be a great job. It would be a wise step for tobacco control in the country,” he said.
Dr. Jawad Al Lawati, senior consultant and rapporteur at the National Tobacco Control Committee of the MoH, said the ministry had last year proposed to introduce a domestic tax on tobacco to replace the customs duties, which had to be removed due to Oman’s bilateral trade agreements.
“We are asking the government to rethink this recommendation and move it forward,” Baqi said, adding that raising taxes on tobacco products is a successful way to curb the use of tobacco.
“Some countries have done that very successfully,” he stated. According to Baqi, countries that had previously raised taxes on tobacco have been able to reduce significantly the impact of tobacco use.
The fact that the Majlis Al Shura has requested the government to increase taxes on tobacco is significant, according to Al Lawati. “In the past, they never talked about tobacco at all. But now, there are a lot of young people elected to the Majlis Al Shura, some of them with a medical background,” he said.
Al Lawati further said the political decision to impose taxes on tobacco has already been taken. In November 2015, finance ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states agreed to impose a tax of 100 per cent on tobacco products, equal to the customs duties levied on these products. Al Lawati said the question now was how to administer these taxes.
“There are several ways to tax, based on cost or based on the retail price and there are many issues to be finalised and decided before it’s implemented.” He also said that probably 90 to 100 per cent of the retail price would be taxed.
“The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance are working together to implement this and develop a mechanism for administering taxes in the GCC countries with other governments in the region. Now that the oil prices have gone down, it has become a priority,” he noted.
Al Baqi said the Minister of Health had also expressed support for the demand during the meeting. “I believe he is working hard towards achieving these recommendations. “We hope that the price of a pack [of cigarettes] will be higher, and rise to a level that can help reduce consumption (significantly),” he said.
Al Lawati said that because many people who use tobacco are poor and are more prone to diseases, higher costs of smoking would deter them from this bad habit. “They spend a large part of their income on tobacco rather than on their families,” he stated.
Shura members also pointed out that this was not only a way to curb tobacco use, but the money raised could also support tobacco control programmes, as well as help increase the state’s revenue.
Al Baqi said income generated from the taxes could be used for tobacco control programmes in Oman, such as a tobacco dependency treatment programme. “This programme is currently very weak,” he explained.
Hilal Al Sarmi, also a member of the Health Committee, revealed that while other countries are levying 150 or 200 per cent import tax on tobacco, Oman has not increased the taxes in 16 years.
According to Al Sarmi, the income generated from tobacco taxes was OMR65 million in 2013. “If the government imposes a tax of 150 per cent, this could be raised to 120 million, which is a huge amount,” he said.
A Joint Mission to Oman carried out by the United Nations Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) earlier this month had found that one in seven Omani men use tobacco.
Doctors in Oman said that higher taxes will be a good step towards curbing the use of tobacco. Dr. Partha Sarathi, physician at the Badr Al Samaa Hospital, said he would welcome the move. “That’s a good sign. It reduces the consumption of tobacco products. People will think twice before spending more on tobacco. It would be a welcome step in addition to the government banning smoking in public places and banning ads,” he added.
“Taxes should be increased. The public will not be able to easily buy these products and there use may decrease,” Dr. Pradeep Maheshwari, an Internal Medicine specialist at the Atlas Hospital, said.