Health Minister’s Tobacco Control Strategy: Raise Taxes

Health Minister’s Tobacco  Control Strategy: Raise Taxes Health Minister’s Tobacco  Control Strategy: Raise Taxes

Health Minister Seyyed Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi has called for increasing tax on tobacco. Pointing out that 10 million people waste their money on cigarettes and “a huge amount of the ministry’s budget is spent on treatment of smoking-related diseases,” he said instead the funds can be spent on improving public health in general.

If cigarette taxes are increased, the required funding for many other health plans in the next five years ($3.1 billion) could be provided and the ministry won’t need additional funds from the general budget. The ministry’s share from the general budget is about $2.5 billion; however, the purpose of setting higher taxes is not to increase revenue; rather it is to discourage smoking and help improve public health.

“People who smoke cigarettes have this wrong belief that they only put their own health at risk, while actually their smoking habit could place a heavy financial burden on the society. Smokers cost a huge amount of money,” IRNA quoted him as saying.

 The use of tobacco has remained the largest (preventable) cause of disease and premature death in the country.

 Risks of Smoking

“Unfortunately, we have not yet succeeded in enacting legislation in this context. However, the subject has been currently proposed to the Majlis (Parliament) and the plan to increase taxes on cigarettes will be discussed in a closed session, a good opportunity to take an all-round approach,” he said.

Secondhand smoke (SHS) can also put smokers’ families at the risk of tobacco-related diseases. Even though many people think of ‘side-stream’ and ‘mainstream’ smoke as the same, it isn’t. Side-stream smoke has higher concentrations of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and is more toxic than mainstream smoke; and, it has smaller particles than mainstream smoke. These smaller particles make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily.

Tobacco smoke is a mixture of gases and particles. It contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer.

 Cigarette Smuggling

Hashemi believes that raising taxes on tobacco is the most effective policy to reduce tobacco use. “The issue raised and spread by some authorities about the negative impact of tax hike on cigarettes, in that it may lead to an increase in smuggling, is a completely false notion,” he said.

The proposal to increase tax to curtail tobacco consumption has scientific support. Many countries including France, Philippines and Turkey have successfully introduced strong tobacco tax policies and this action has reduced tobacco use in those nations without leading to an increase in cigarette smuggling.

Preventive law suggests that 70% of cigarette prices should constitute tax, while in Iran the tax on cigarettes is equivalent to only 2% of the price.

“Unfortunately due to lack of preventive law, the smoking age has reduced significantly and the number of smokers is increasing.”  This increase is due partly to population growth and partly due to the fact that the smoking pattern in the country has changed.

Nearly 10 to 12% of the population are smokers, said Mohammad Reza Masjedi, general secretary of Iranian Anti-Tobacco Association, and World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Iran.  At present, the country’s annual consumption has reached more than 66 billion cigarettes, he added.