The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) has received a five-year $7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide Southeast Asian policymakers with research-based evidence on tobacco taxation. This project will focus on improving tax systems for tobacco control in five Southeast Asian Countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Philippines and Vietnam.
The Southeast Asia Initiative on Tobacco Tax (SITT) revolves around Article 6 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), which recognizes that raising taxes and prices on tobacco products is the single most effective measure governments can implement to curb tobacco use and address the health and social costs of smoking. “Higher taxes on tobacco lead to higher prices for tobacco products, which immediately discourage non-smokers from starting and current smokers from continuing with their harmful habit,” said Bungon Ritthiphakdee, director of the Bangkok-based SEATCA.
The World Bank, in its report ‘Curbing the Tobacco Epidemic: Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control,’ recommends that governments impose taxes of at least 65 percent on tobacco products’ retail prices. At such rates, the World Bank says smoking goes down even as government tax revenues from the tobacco industry continue to go up. With the additional collections, the World Bank adds, governments could, and should, fund tobacco prevention, control, and treatment programs.
Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SITT Project Director, emphasizes that simplified, uniform and specific tobacco taxation regimes, alongside tobacco tax increases, will be critical in reducing tobacco use in SITT’s five targeted Southeast Asian countries. The SITT project will support improved tobacco tax initiatives in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The project will build on years of work conducted by SEATCA and its partners in the region to build the evidence base for sound tobacco tax policy and local capacity to improve tobacco taxation systems.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is home to almost 574 million people, and almost 31 percent (about 125.8 million) of the adult population are smokers, equivalent to around 10 percent of the world’s smoking population. The region also accounts for almost 10 percent of smoking related deaths worldwide.
“By 2014, we hope to see ASEAN governments having strengthened their tobacco tax systems. This would increase revenues from tobacco taxes while simultaneously having reduced tobacco consumption, thereby improving public health,” Ms. Ritthiphakdee adds. “Ultimately, therefore, SITT will redound to individual and government savings and benefits.”