The Vision for Alternative Development, Ghana (VALD-Ghana), in conjunction with some civil society organizations, have petitioned Parliament to quickly pass the Tobacco Excise Duty Amendment Bill, 2023.
The CSOs noted that the passage of the Excise Duty Amendment Bill will curb the excessive consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages, which causes diseases and death.
The NCD Alliance, Tax Advocacy Network for Health Promotion, Community Health Support Team, Jaishi Youth Initiative, and Revenue Mobilization Africa, among other stakeholders, joined the VALD-Ghana at a press conference at the CSIR-STEPRI, Accra, on Thursday, February 23.
Currently, tobacco and cigarettes, which were the centre of the press confab, are sold at a very low cost, making it easy for young children to get access to them for consumption, which in turn leaves them with deadly non-communicable diseases such as lung cancer and heart diseases, just to mention a few.
On the score, the CSOs reiterated their long-lasting advocacy for an upward adjustment in the current tobacco excise amendment act 2015, which was pegged at 175%, to a rate that will make the product more expensive to buy and by that prevent people from consuming it.
In a presentation delivered by the Executive Director of Programs at VALD-Ghana, Mr. Labram Musah, he noted that the tobacco product is the "killer of the century."
Mr. Labram asserted that aside from tobacco having no scientifically proven benefits, it has claimed the lives of over 8 million people annually around the world, followed by alcohol use, which also claims the lives of 3.3 million people each year at a rate of every 6.5 seconds.
In Ghana alone, tobacco use, alcohol use, and sugar-sweetened beverages account for 17,000 deaths each year.
He seized the opportunity and appreciated the Minister for Finance, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, for heeding their call to include in the 2023 Budget Statement an excise tax on health-harming products such as tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).
The bill which is currently in its second reading stage, heading to the consideration stage, if passed without delays, Mr. Labram said will boost the local revenue to enhance government’s efforts of socioeconomic development.
"A considerable number of Ghanaians are at risk. The most recent study by VALD-Ghana reveals that a revision of the tobacco tax structure in Ghana and increased education on the hazards of tobacco use would go a long way to stem the tide of the prevalence of tobacco use in Ghana.
"The study further reiterates that, considering the huge burden tobacco places on the Ghanaian economy, it is imperative to design and implement appropriate policies to curb its adverse effects," he said.
Also, increasing taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages by implementing specific excise taxes can generate GHC 3.5 billion in additional excise tax revenue in 2023.
Specifically, increasing tobacco taxes by introducing a specific excise tax of GHC 6 on cigarettes in Ghana will, according to VALD-Ghana, satisfy the ECOWAS directive of a specific minimum excise tax of at least US$0.40 per pack and generate an additional GHC 131 million in revenue while reducing consumption by 26.6 percent in 2023.
The CSOs noted, among several other risks, the negative impact on the environment of the indiscriminate disposal of plastic bottles after the consumption of beverages.
Apart from the numerous effects of tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on human lives and the environment, the Ghanaian government, amidst the current economic predicament, spends millions of dollars, which could have been used to boost the economy, on health care.
This, the CSOs said, should be one of the major reasons why Parliament must immediately heed the calls, stand against any possible influence from the tobacco industry, and pass the bill to avert its usage.
On the assertion that the tobacco industry has been providing job opportunities and generating income to boost the global economy, and for that matter, any restrictions on the sector will lead to excess poverty around the world, Mr. Labram described it as a blatant lie and an inaccurate tale.
"Of all the concerns, there is one—taxation—that alarms us the most. While marketing restrictions on public and passive smoking do depress volume, in our experience, taxation depresses it much more severely. Our concern for taxation is, therefore, central to our thinking about smoking and health.
"Taxation has historically been the area to which we have devoted most resources, and for the foreseeable future, things will stay the same almost everywhere," Mr. Labram cited the tobacco industry as having said on March 15, 1985.
Ending his speech, he said, "It is important to reiterate that a specific tax needs regular adjustments to account for inflation. This issue should be resolved by pegging the specific tax rate to the US dollar or to the inflation rate so that government may not need parliamentary approval for regular adjustments.
"It is worth emphasising that our call on the government to increase tobacco tax is not to rake in more revenue but also a move to control tobacco consumption and improve health and well-being."
Also speaking on behalf of the Ghana Revenue Authority’s Deputy Commissioner of Strategy, Research, Policy, and Programs, Dr. Charles Addae, Dr. Alex Kombat, Assistant Commissioner of Research and Policy at the GRA, said the passage of the amendment bill will help them meet their annual revenue target.
He also bemoaned the amount government spends on tobacco-related diseases, indicating that it "accounts for 3% of all deaths in the country, costing Ghana GH668 million every year, equivalent to 0.2% of annual GDP to take care of tobacco-related illnesses."
Reiterating the calls of the initial speakers was a member of the Tax Justice Coalition, Mr. Geoffrey Occansey, who said the continuous usage of tobacco has been stampeding on the progress of the less privileged in society.
He noted that the poorest members of society are the ones who mostly consume cigarettes, so the bill will seek to bridge the gap between them and the richer members of society because by that they will no more spend their time smoking but working hard.
Also speaking at the event were the lead convener of the Jaishi Youth Initiative, Mr. Amposah Isaac, Mr. Divine Loggo, and others, who in their speeches reiterated the need to get the bill passed immediately to save the youths and to boost local revenue mobilisation and environmental pollution.