Industries Ministry Accused of Promoting Tobacco Use

The health minister said many in the government and parliament are dismissive of studies that link cigarette use to drug abuse
According to official figures, 11% of Iranians are smokers. According to official figures, 11% of Iranians are smokers.

Health Minister Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi has accused the Industries Ministry of supporting the production and trade of tobacco and counteracting plans to reduce its consumption.

Speaking at a ceremony late last week to mark the National No Tobacco Week (July 1-7), the official said that in no administration has the ministry participated in tobacco control plans.

“The Industries Ministry always seeks the expansion of tobacco trade as it is highly profitable,” he said, lamenting that its stance only serves to unravel efforts of the Health Ministry and other entities that combat tobacco use.

He directed his criticism at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance as well as the Management and Planning Organization, which he said might share the profits of the business.

“There is a lack of commitment to control smoking,” he said, ISNA reported.

Activists and health officials have long argued in favor of increasing taxes on tobacco, but critics say it will only lead to more smuggling.

“How is it possible that anywhere else in the world increasing taxes has led to a drop in tobacco use but in Iran they say it will have the precise opposite effect?” he asked. “This means there is something wrong.”

Mohammad Reza Masjedi, director of the Anti-Smoking Society, also complained about the ineffective and lax tobacco tax laws that have not only failed to control tobacco use, but have also helped increase the profits of traders.

A 10% tax used to be levied on locally-produced tobacco and cigarettes, which led to an increase in prices. However, the tax was scrapped in the sixth five-year economic development plan (2017-22) thanks to efforts by the tobacco mafia, he said.

“The tax has been removed but prices remain high, helping manufacturers turn even bigger profits,” Masjedi said.

If tobacco taxes maintained their upward trend, like in countries that have successfully curbed tobacco use, it would help the health sector generate around 200 trillion rials ($5.2 billion) annually, according to Masjedi.

“The money could be spent to improve medical services while the rate of smoking would definitely decline,” IRNA quoted him as saying.

Some others claim that restricting the use of cigarettes and hookah will push people toward harder substances, such as crystal meth and other narcotics.

Hashemi rejects the notion as “a lie.”

“It has been proven that drug addiction starts with smoking but many officials in the government as well as lawmakers refuse to accept it,” the health minister said.

Smokers and drug addicts impose a huge burden on Iran’s health system.

Hashemi said the money that could be better spent on developing key infrastructure must instead be used to provide healthcare for people suffering from tobacco use, a problem that can be avoided.

Masjedi also expressed fierce criticism about other countries’ investment in the sector.

“British-American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International have a combined annual revenue of around 800 trillion rials ($21 billion) through their businesses in Iran,” he said.

BAT in Eshtehard, Alborz Province, was expected to create 3,000 jobs but it only employs 210 people, Masjedi added.

According to official figures, 11% of Iranians are smokers; however, Hashemi believes that the figure is inaccurate and the true number is far higher.

“These types of statistics—those on social harms—are often inaccurate,” he said.

Smokers in Iran spend over 100 trillion rials ($2.6 billion) on cigarettes every year. The figure does not take into account money spent on hookah consumption.

“Young men and women spend this money to gain a false sense of tranquility,” said Hashemi, urging relevant authorities to devise alternative means of helping people calm down and cheer up.

Since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, tobacco use has declined by 7% thanks to the Health Ministry’s measures.

“It took 12 years during the tenure of four governments before we managed to set appropriate laws and pilot a scheme aimed at preventing tobacco use,” said Masjedi.

The scheme has initiated in Varamin, Tehran Province, and will soon be implemented nationwide.


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