Delay in tobacco tax hike irks GCC health ministers

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The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) health ministers have expressed concern at the delay in raising taxes on all imported and locally produced tobacco products, which is aimed at reducing consumption and attendant health costs for local economies.

Tawfiq Khoja, director general of the executive office of the GCC Health Ministers’ Council, said the ministers had decided to ask the GCC secretariat to speed up the taxation procedures. This should be done with due consideration for two member countries, Bahrain and Oman, who signed bilateral free trade agreements, and taking into account the GCC’s relations with the World Trade Organization, Khoja said in a statement recently. He said a decision is expected shortly on the issue, which falls outside the health ministers’ ambit and rests with the GCC’s finance and legislative ministries. He said the decision should be taken quickly because the tax is aimed at protecting the health of citizens and the GCC economies, an online daily reported.

Khoja said higher taxes have been proven to be one of the most effective means to reduce tobacco consumption.

He said a decision in favor of the tax had been taken at the 23rd meeting of the GCC committee for combating smoking held in Manama in March. A representative of Bahrain’s finance ministry, Sami Homaid, had made a brief presentation at the meeting on the GCC finance ministries’ efforts to introduce a selective taxation on tobacco products.

It was decided in a meeting of the finance and economic cooperation committee in 2012 that the committee agreed in principle to impose a selective tax on imported and locally manufactured tobacco and its derivatives in line with the customs duty being collected on such products.

He added that a team was constituted to discuss the modalities of implementing the tax.

He said the GCC decided to ban promotion of cigarettes and tobacco in all media including movie and television channels as far back as 1979. It also sought the elimination of smoking scenes in movies likely to be seen by children. He added that the council took 14 decisions to deal with issues such as avoiding indirect promotion of smoking through scenes in television serials.

International studies have underscored that film stars promote smoking indirectly because young viewers consider actors their role models. Tobacco manufacturers have turned to indirect promotion following a total ban on direct promotion of their products on television and in the print media.

He said a regional consultative meeting on tobacco and drama at the regional office of the World Health Organization for Middle East in Cairo last month, made several recommendations such as setting up a national observatory to track down tobacco promotions in films and other media. It also stressed the need for national coordination to support efforts in this direction, and implementation of the World Health Organization agreement on a ban on tobacco promotion and sponsorship by tobacco companies.

 
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