WHO asks government to raise taxes on cigarettes

Thursday May 16 2013

By Sarah Tumwebaze

Experts at the World Health Organisation (WHO) have appealed to the government to increase taxes levied on cigarettes as a way of curbing tobacco usage in the country.

Speaking in an interview with this newspaper yesterday, Mr Kofi Nti, an economist and tax advisor at WHO, said the current tax levy on tobacco companies is not helpful.

“It has allowed tobacco companies to either reduce the prices of cigarettes or maintain constant prices while prices of other goods are increasing. Through this process, tobacco companies are giving people incentives to continue smoking which explains why children as young as 12 years can buy a cigarette,” Mr Nti said.

Prof Robert Machang’u, a senior advisor at the WHO tobacco control project, also added: “Uganda’s taxation rate on tobacco is 37 per cent, against 70 per cent which is recommended by the World Bank and WHO. So there is need to increase the tax regime to match with that of other countries like Kenya which is at 50 per cent.”

According to a study conducted by WHO and the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, in Uganda, prices of various cigarette brands have remained the same for the last five years, even in 2011 and early 2012 when the country was hit by a 30.2 per cent inflation rate.

Earlier this year, the Tobacco Control Bill 2012 was launched and one of the key issues it highlighted was the need to increase taxes on tobacco products.

However, the spokesperson of the Finance ministry, Mr Jim Mugunga, said over the years, the ministry, along with Bank of Uganda, has shown interest in adopting measures to mitigate the impact of various products on people.

“The ministry is also looking at harmonising the tobacco taxation system with that of other countries with in the region, but it would be speculative to state when this will happen,” Mr Mugunga said.