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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed thousands of lives worldwide. As expected with any respiratory illness, there is clear evidence that smokers are much more vulnerable to COVID-19 than non-smokers. This blog discusses how smokers can make the crisis worse and provides short term policy recommendations that can help control the spread of the disease in Sri Lanka. In particular, the blog makes a compelling case for imposing a temporary ban on cigarette sales in Sri Lanka.
As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic threatens the entire world, claiming thousands of lives and disrupting economic activities, it would be wise to look at the role smoking cessation could play in the response. Given that over a quarter (28.4%) of Sri Lankan men (15 years and older) smoke, one important intervention that can be taken right now, is utilising this moment of panic as motivation to stop smoking. This blog discusses the role of smoking cessation in reducing the chances of falling victim to the pandemic, which will not only assist in protecting public health, but will also make the population less susceptible to COVID-19 and its future recurrences, both now and in the longer term.
Despite multiple measures by successive governments to bring down tobacco prevalence in Sri Lanka, still more than one in four males use tobacco. Reducing smoking prevalence is also identified as one of the concerns in the manifesto of the newly elected president of Sri Lanka. This blog argues that bringing down tobacco prevalence further will entail tightening tobacco control policies and initiating focused measures targeting difficult-to-reach groups.
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.