Some expect that the rise in prices of cigarettes to SR9 per pack may curb smoking in the Kingdom, but this increase will only provide financial gain to the tobacco importing companies and serves no purpose in combating smoking in the Kingdom.
Health experts urge the government to follow other countries that impose taxes on cigarette sales, and use these taxes to fund widespread anti-smoking campaigns.
“In previous months Kafa, the non-profit organization campaigning for smoking prevention, organized a forum attended by doctors, consultants, social experts, and healthcare professionals regarding the ills of smoking in the Kingdom. The forum recommended to the highest governmental bodies to impose taxes on cigarette sales. These taxes will be used to support charities and other organizations that are dedicated to spreading social awareness on the negative impact of smoking on the health of the nation,” said Ghazi Abbas, public relations director of Kafa.
“If you compare the prices of cigarettes in Saudi Arabia with other countries, the low prices and absence of any governmental taxes have played a role in the proliferation of smoking among the youth and people of all socio-economic classes in the Kingdom,” added Abbas.
The government could learn from the successful results following the imposition of taxes on cigarettes in other countries. Experts here are optimistic that the Kingdom can cut down smoking rates like other countries where tobacco consumption dropped considerably over the past decade after heavier taxes were imposed on cigarette sales.
For example, in 2009 the United States passed a law raising the federal taxes cigarettes from $0.39 per pack to $1.01. This initiative was passed in order to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program which was created to provide medical aid for impoverished children.
Statistics show that the rate of phone calls to hot-lines that help smokers quit is directly related to cigarette tax hikes. When the state of Wisconsin raised its state cigarette tax to $1.00 per pack, the hot-line received a record of 20,000 calls over a two-month period versus its typical 9,000 calls annually, which is a clear evidence of the efficacy of cigarette taxes in slashing smoking prevalence.
At a meeting held this year in Saudi Arabia, health ministers from the GCC proposed a 50 percent tax on cigarettes to control consumption and they presented it to finance ministers for approval. No date for implementation or decision was announced.
The Minister of Health and Director of the National Committee for Tobacco Control, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, led the third meeting of the National Committee for Tobacco Control. The key recommendations agreed upon in the meeting were to make a request to the Cabinet for issuing a blanket ban on smoking in public areas. Such initiatives if passed will help prevent smoking and will protect the rights of non-smokers to breathe clean air, free of cigarette pollutants.
Although the West is heading in the right direction toward decreasing the number of smokers among their population, smoking is on the rise in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. While cigarette sales volumes between the years 2005 and 2010 dropped by 12 percent in western Europe, 20 percent in North America and 10 percent in Australasia, in the Middle East the market grew by 17 percent during the same time period, making the Middle East the fastest growing region for cigarette consumption in the world.
One pro-tobacco source actually described Saudi Arabia as a ripe place for investment in tobacco sales. The report stated that with a swelling young population in Saudi Arabia, it is a place with real growth potential for tobacco and, although tobacco control is currently being seriously studied, its influence is still weak.
The four largest markets — Egypt, Iran, Algeria and Saudi Arabia — account for almost 50 percent of cigarette sales in the Middle East.
It is indeed worrying to note that the youth in the Kingdom make up the prime targets for the multi-billion dollar tobacco industry. Our children and teenagers are innocent bait to these tobacco companies, and the government should work harder to keep our kids out of the snare of the tobacco market’s deadly hook.