Reducing Health Costs and Increasing Government Revenue beyond COVID-19: A Case for Raising Cigarette Taxes in Sri Lanka
Increasing and simplifying excise taxes are prescribed by the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and are the most cost-effective tools that governments can employ to reduce smoking rates. However, the tobacco industry strongly opposes raising taxes on cigarettes. Further, Sri Lanka has some misinformed cigarette taxation practices in place. This blog shows the fallacies in these arguments and practices, and highlights the importance of streamlining taxation policies in the country, with the objective of reducing smoking prevalence and reducing smoking related health costs.
Unlike the Easter Sunday attacks, COVID-19 is not only affecting Sri Lanka. Its effect is felt by almost all countries across the world. The economic impact of this on Sri Lanka will not only be influenced by what is happening in the country, but also by how the disease is affecting global values chains, markets, and the movement of goods and people across the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic still unfolding, it is too early to estimate the economic impact of the crisis. This blog compares the economic impact of the Easter Sunday attacks to illustrate the likely impact of COVID-19 on Sri Lanka’s economy.
Over a quarter of the world’s population is currently under movement restrictions. For the first time in recent human history, coronavirus has shattered the myth that the economy must come first. While public health concerns, undoubtedly, should take precedence over all other considerations when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be unwise to ignore the economic costs of the current situation. Small economies such as Sri Lanka, in particular, whose economic backbone is made up of micro, small, and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), dependent on export revenue for foreign currency generation, and is simultaneously managing a critical debt and fiscal crisis, are going to be particularly vulnerable.
Significant increases to tobacco taxes is the best means of controlling tobacco consumption. The high cost of tobacco dissuades new users, reduces consumption of current users, and discourages those who have quit smoking from restarting. Children and youth, particularly, respond positively to price increases in tobacco. This blog examines how Sri Lanka is faring against the global best practices and recommend policy reforms to strengthen tobacco control.
In the run up to elections, Sri Lanka is once again witnessing various news activities highlighting how the government is losing revenue due to increased consumption of illicit cigarettes and beedi. However, the wider government policy on tobacco control is aimed to reduce smoking rates and the related direct and indirect costs – which was estimated to amount to 6% of government revenue in 2015 – through taxation. This blog argues that although controlling the availability of illegal cigarettes in the market is important, this should be done through regulation so that both legal and illegal cigarette consumption remains low in the country.