WHO Reprimands Iran for Not Raising Tobacco Taxes

WHO Reprimands Iran for Not Raising Tobacco TaxesWHO Reprimands Iran for Not Raising Tobacco Taxes

In spite of leading tobacco control measures in the region, Iran still needs to progress to achieve international standards, according to the World Health Organization’s acting adviser for the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO) on the Tobacco Free Initiative.

“Iran’s activities in the field are admirable, but it continues to dawdle in terms of applying tax on tobacco products in an effective manner,” said Dr. Fatima Al Awa, at a meeting of health officials and advisors at the Health Ministry during her recent visit to Tehran.

Representatives of the WHO’s Cigarette Tax Board were also present at the meeting which focused on successful global strategies in control of tobacco use in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the ministry’s official news agency WEBDA reported.

In April, the parliament at an open session had ratified a bill to increase the retail prices of cigarettes, based on which the prices of imported, joint venture and domestically produced cigarettes would increase by 20, 30, and 40%, respectively.

Simply put, the prices of imported brands would rise by 500 rials (about 1.4 cents at market exchange rates) for each cigarette. For joint production and domestically-produced brands, the increase would equal 350 rials (about 1 cent) and 100 rials (0.3 cents) respectively.

The bill was passed after a visiting WHO delegation headed by Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of the WHO secretariat of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), met with Iranian officials from competent organizations and criticized Iran’s failure to implement Article 6 of the FCTC, which stipulates taxes should comprise at least 70% of the retail price on each cigarette pack.

The tax increase is meager and Al Awa emphasized that failing to enforce effective tax on tobacco products will overshadow the government’s positive steps in tobacco control taken so far.

“One of the most important areas to be addressed is the influence of foreign companies in controlling the local market,” she noted.

“Although the country’s tobacco market is run by the government, private foreign firms continue to play a significant role in regulating the market, which is not desirable and must be addressed.”

Iran’s anti-tobacco agenda should also address smoking among women and girls.

“It is disquieting to note the increasing use of cigarettes and tobacco among the youth and women, the reason for which seems to be the easy access to tobacco products in the country,” the WHO official stressed.

In May 2014, the WHO warned in a report that within the next 40 years Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan would be the top growth countries with respect to tobacco consumption worldwide. The Eastern Mediterranean region has the second lowest prices for cigarettes on an average.

Production control and higher taxes, and curbs on easy availability are instrumental in tobacco control policies, Al Awa added.  

Around 65,000 people die of tobacco use in the country annually and 50 billion cigarettes worth $33.3 million are smoked every year by nearly 10 million people. Further, around 30% of children below five years are exposed to tobacco smoke.

As per the new rules of the National Tobacco Planning and Supervision Center, from June 21, only grocery stores and supermarkets with permits will be allowed to sell cigarettes.