As Government Refused to Raise Tax on Tobacco, Alcohol and Unhealthy Products to Improve Public Health and Generate Additional Revenue
Accra, November 16, 2019 – The Ghana Tax Advocacy Network for Health Promotion convened by the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) expresses its displeasure at the government’s plain neglect of the concerns and health of the people, despite various engagements by civil society groups and Ghanaians for an increase in tax on tobacco, alcohol and other unhealthy products. It was expected that the increment would reduce the number of deaths and suffering, discourage initiation by the youth and also raise additional revenue for the state, but as it happened the government has thrown all concerns to the wind by refusing to heed."
The demand to protect the poor and vulnerable is about the protection of human rights and a demand for a better quality of life for all especially the poor and vulnerable including women and children who have over the years been the target of these harmful products.
The actions by the government goes against the obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, the Universal Health Coverage, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the World Health Organization’s best buys.
The government’s refusal to impose taxes on harmful commodities in the recently read budget statement and economic policy put into question the commitments of government to take meaningful and sustainable measures to ensure that people’s health rights are respected and protected.
Instead government has given preferential treatment to these industries in the name of job creation and other unjustifiable industry arguments aimed at deceiving the public.
The government seems to be taking actions that would directly and indirectly benefit corporate interests and increase corporate profits at the expense of the public. This is absolutely unacceptable, considering the devastating health, economic and environmental effects of consuming these products. Government also knows that the leading cause of deaths today are the non-communicable diseases killing over 40 million people annually and in Ghana killing 94,400 per year. Isn’t it scary and enough reason for the government to have increased tax on products that are largely responsible for these number of rising deaths we are currently experiencing?. Unfortunately, government has puts a blind eye as if all is well.
Government should not be deceived by the sweet talks of the industry because they have clearly stated that they have found new markets in Africa to push their deadly cancer causing products, furthermore some are currently being accused of corruption charges in many African countries and are being investigated.
Despite persistent public education campaigns, tobacco and alcohol use are still the leading cause of preventable diseases and premature death from cardiovascular, lung and respiratory diseases. The upsurge in the consumption of these products are not only hazardous to the well-being of the consumers and non-consumers, but also puts a heavy financial and social burden on the economic health of Ghanaians.
The Ghana 2017 Global Youth Tobacco Survey in Junior High Schools shows that 8.9% of boys and 8.2% of girls currently use any form of tobacco products. 7.0% of boys and 5.3% of girls currently smoke tobacco, 0.4% of boys and 1.7% of girls currently smoke shisha.
Shockingly there are over 60 alcoholic beverages sold on the Ghanaian market today increasing our health and economic burden, yet absolutely nothing is being done by the government to prevent a pending and rising epidemic.
We can’t fathom why a known killer product sold so cheaply on our markets is not attracting tax increment to make them inexpensive and unattractive to the poor, young people and vulnerable groups who are the primary target. Is the government happy about the cost of a stick of cigarette costing only 0.15 pesewas (USD0.04) while a pack of 10 sticks costing GHS1.50p (USD0.30) and a sachet of alcohol costing the consumer 50 pesewas (USD0.10). Meanwhile elsewhere, like New Zealand and other developed countries, cigarette costs the smoker up to USD20 per pack, making them very expensive.
Almost everything in Ghana including condoms, sanitary pads, essential drugs are taxed except these harmful commodities: it is unacceptable to keep harmful commodities from taxes for 5 years for tobacco products and 9 years for alcoholic beverages, meanwhile WHO recommends progressive tax increment which the Ghana government is very much aware of.
“These products are targeted at children, women, the poor and vulnerable because of the prices at which they are sold, yet when they contract diseases such as cancers, diabetes, stroke, blindness, heart diseases and heart attacks etc. treatment is beyond the individual financial ability which the government is aware.
The only known scheme meant to protect the poor and vulnerable; the National Health Insurance Scheme also does not cover the high cost of treating NCDs thereby imposing untold financial hardship and worsening poverty levels on these vulnerable groups” Labram Musah, Program Director at VALD, National Coordinator at Ghana NCD Alliance and Coordinator, Ghana Tax Advocacy Network for Health Promotion.
It seems the government does not understand the implications of not making tobacco, alcohol and other unhealthy products unattractive and unaffordable.
Government speaks of achieving the SDGs and Universal Health Coverage forgetting the fact that health is very cardinal in achieving those goals which must not be focused only on treatment and care.
Prevention is the best investment any leader can bestow on its people that is why a lot more countries like Kenya, UAE, Philippines, Mexico, South Africa, Chile etc. have taxed such commodities to protect its people.
We are sorry to say that the government’s agenda of Ghana Beyond Aid and government achievement of the SDGs will be far from reality because many more people are going to contract and die from non-communicable diseases this year and beyond. The Tobacco Atlas has revealed that more than 5,000 Ghanaians die of tobacco diseases annually, with economic cost amounting to about GH₵97million.
The government can save 22,000 lives by 2025 if all recommendations contained in the WHO “Best Buys”, most especially raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol and other unhealthy products are implemented.
At 13.02% of the retail price, Ghana’s excise tax as a percentage of cigarette prices can be significantly increased to meet the WHO minimum benchmark of 70% of the retail price.
We are however hopeful that the government will still find it expedient to reconsider its decision not to impose tax on these commodities to avert the deaths and suffering.
For more information contact:
The Programmes Director; Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) and the Coordinator; Ghana NCD Alliance