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High taxes don’t result in cigarette smuggling, say experts at Turkish forum

cigs_hidden_610Last updated: April 9, 2010

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

The National Committee on Cigarettes and Health, or SSUK, organizes a conference in Istanbul that brings together academics and experts from Turkey, Hong Kong and India. Using facts and figures, they argue that Turkey’s smoking ban has not led to more cigarette smuggling and call for further cigarette tax hikes in the country

The theory that high taxes on cigarettes increase smuggling was criticized by experts from Turkey, India and Hong Kong who gathered in Istanbul on Wednesday.

The experts met to discuss the effect of smoking bans and raising taxes on cigarette smuggling.

Along with the National Committee on Cigarettes and Health, or SSUK, in Turkey, they presented facts and figures to show that high cigarette prices will deter smoking and will not lead to significantly more cigarette smuggling.

There have been reports in the Turkish media that cigarette smuggling has increased 20 percent because of the smoking ban, which is believed to reduce government tax revenue.

Experts, however, disagree; SSUK President and professor Elif Dağlı said cigarette smuggling is not likely to be individual work but the result of organized crime.

In order to increase smuggling by 20 per cent in Turkey, one would need a staff of approximately 20,000 people to work in distribution and sales, she said.

“Smuggling has nothing to do with cigarette prices, this is a method employed by the industry to scare the government,” said the professor. “If you keep the cigarette prices high, you increase tax income, reduce tobacco consumption and preserve health.”

However, she said she expected the tobacco industry would attempt to reduce the price to lower government tax income in the coming months and lobby the government into loosening the smoking ban.

She further offered statistics on how cigarette smuggling is high in countries with lower taxes and lower in the ones with higher taxes.

“The most important factor in reducing tobacco consumption is having high taxes applied on cigarettes. As doctors, we say high cigarette prices are good for [national] health,” she said.

1 billion to die from smoking by 2100

Dr. Lam Tai-Hing, director of the school of Public Health from the University of Hong Kong, said the most important method for fighting against smuggling is to give resources to customs, as smuggling will go on even without raising taxes.

Dr. Prakash C. Gupta, meanwhile, director of the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health in Mumbai also said smuggling happens to countries with low access control and is not a function of price.

To further emphasize the fact that smoking kills, Lam estimated that two-thirds of smokers will be killed by related diseases if they start smoking at a young age, with a quarter dying between the ages of 35 to 69.

He said by 2030, 8 million people could be killed per year, with 80 per cent of them in low-and-middle income countries.

In the last century, smoking killed 100 million people, but is expected to kill 1 billion people in this century. Moreover one-third of adults are also exposed to second hand smoking, which also kills about 600,000 people per year.

Lam said raising tax is the most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption, adding that cigarette taxes should be at least 75 per cent of the price.

“Politicians may become unpopular if they impose high taxes but tobacco is one product that the consumers want to give up,” Gupta said.

Details of the smoking ban in Turkey

Turkey’s smoking ban took effect on July 19, 2009, outlawing smoking in all enclosed public places, such as bars, cafes, restaurants and places where nargile is smoked. Smoking is also not allowed in taxis, trains, outdoor stadiums as well as private and public schools.

Hotels are also required to set up rooms with ventilation systems that meet established standards for guests who smoke. These rooms must be on the same floor or corridor of each other.

Under the legislation, special sections made for smokers cannot exceed 10 percent of the overall space, and must be isolated from other enclosed areas. Similar-sized areas can also be created on the decks of sea-transport vehicles for smokers on intercity and international routes.

People under the age of 18, meanwhile, will not be allowed to enter these sections. Businesses are additionally required to make arrangements that protect nonsmokers from fumes if smoking is allowed in open-air parts of their premises.

Individuals who do not obey the ban are fined 70 Turkish Liras, while those who let people smoke in enclosed areas are fined between 572 and 5,723 liras.

Despite strong industry opposition and the belief by some that the ban is too strict, Turkey’s smoking ban was highly praised by other countries at this year’s Asian-Pacific Organization for Cancer Prevention congress, according to Dr. Nejat Özgül, deputy president for the anti-cancer department at the Health Ministry.

“If we want to win the war against cancer, we have to win the war against tobacco,” he said.

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