Experts call for tobacco tax increase to save Cambodian lives and expand health care benefits

Phnom Penh, 23 April 2019: Experts from the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), World Health Organization (WHO), and Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) today called on the Cambodian government to further increase tobacco taxes to reduce tobacco use, save lives, and raise much needed revenues to expand health care benefits for all.

More than 2 million Cambodian adults currently consume tobacco products. 1.68 million (32.9% of adult men and 2.4% of adult women) smoke cigarettes, and close to half a million (0.8% of adult men and 9.1% of adult women) chew tobacco. The smoking prevalence among the youth is also rising (2.9% of boys and 1.9% of girls are smoking).

“Tobacco tax policies have been strengthened in recent years, but they have not yet been used to their full potential to discourage tobacco consumption and raise government revenues for social development programs. Cambodia’s tobacco tax as a percentage of retail price (between 25% to 30%) is still among the lowest in the ASEAN Region,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

“A high tax on tobacco is a low-cost but highly effective intervention that WHO recommends as a win-win policy because it won’t cost governments money – rather, it brings in revenues that can finance health care benefits for all, while also discouraging smoking and preventing tobacco-caused diseases, thereby saving lives and more money,” said Dr. Yel Daravuth, representing WHO Cambodia.

“Health and economic experts agree that public health gains will be continually eroded over time unless tobacco tax rates are adjusted regularly to keep up with inflation and changes in household income. The government should aim to make tobacco products less affordable over time and thereby discourage tobacco use,” added Dr. Mom Kong, Executive Director of CMH.

Studies on the relative income prices (RIP) of cigarettes[1] in Cambodia show that cigarettes have become twice as affordable in 2016 compared to 2002. According to a youth opinion survey on cigarette prices conducted in 2018 by SEATCA in partnership with the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the General Department of Taxation of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the majority of youths (aged 18-24 years old) said that they would stop buying cigarettes if the price is at least US$ 2.50 per pack. The price of the most popular cigarette brand is currently only US$ 0.50.

In line with international guidelines and best practices on tobacco taxation, the experts also recommended that Cambodia’s tax structure should be shifted to a uniform specific tax system, which is easier to administer than the current ad valorem system, and that licenses be required for all tobacco manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers to facilitate tax collection and combat illicit trade and production.

The National Tobacco Control Law adopted in 2015 specifies key measures to regulate the supply and reduce the demand of tobacco, including through tobacco taxation, in accordance with the global health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Cambodia ratified in 2005.

Tobacco use remains the world’s leading avoidable cause of premature death. In Cambodia, 10,000 people succumb annually to tobacco-related diseases, while tobacco use burdens the national economy with more than KHR 644.75 billion (approximately US$ 162.7 million) in health care costs and lost productivity annually.

 

Contact:
Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA Email: wendell@seatca.org | Mobile: +63 999 881 2117 ##

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About SEATCA
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.

[1] Refers to percentage of per capita GDP required to purchase 100 packs of cigarettes.