The Sunday Mail
Government is considering increasing tobacco sales tax in order to minimise cigarette consumption under a broad strategy aimed at reducing cancer cases.
Latest World Health Organisation statistics show that over 1,1 million Zimbabweans smoke, with the number of women topping 120 300.
Medical research has singled out tobacco as a major carcinogen with 438 chemical substances capable of propagating cancer.
In 2010, global research unit Tobacco Atlas reported 86 tobacco-related cancer deaths of men per week in Zimbabwe. Who estimates that tobacco-related cancer will be the leading cause of deaths globally by 2030, with passive smoking also being carcinogenic. Authorities reason that dissuading large-scale tobacco consumption and other interventions in the Zimbabwe Cancer Control Strategy (2014-2018) will ensure “A cancer-free Zimbabwe”.
Secretary for Health and Child Care Brigadier-General (Retired) Dr Gerald Gwinji told The Sunday Mail that the Health Ministry wants 80 percent of “sin” taxes channelled towards prevention and control of cancer and other non-communicable diseases.
“Sin taxes are suggested as a source for financing health, and this is elaborated in our Health Financing Policy which was launched recently.
“This just provides Government with an option to finance health, but will need to be approved on a tax-by-tax basis. As we speak, some taxes are being levied on tobacco, but these go towards general State revenue and are not specifically earmarked for health.
“The rationale behind sin taxes is that they raise funds and also stimulate changes in consumer behaviour, hopefully positive, resulting in reduced exposure to the product and its unwanted effects.”
The Zimbabwe Cancer Control Strategy aims “to increase awareness on all cancer-related issues and create an enabling environment for adoption and practice of evidence-based cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, palliative care, rehabilitation, surveillance and research; leading to a reduction in cancer-related morbidity and mortality”.
It also targets “training health workers in integrated Cancer/HIV and Aids/STI early detection and management services; and reducing late presentation (third and fourth stage) of selected cancers from 80 percent to 50 percent by 2018”.
The Strategy reads, in part: “The objective is to mobilise resources for cancer prevention and control. The target is for 80 percent of sin taxes to be channelled to the ministry by 2018. It will advocate enabling legislation, promotion of sin taxes and an environment that promotes tobacco cessation. This will reduce the economic and social acceptability of tobacco use in line with the World Health Organisation-recommended strategies.”
Cancer Association of Zimbabwe Information, Research and Evaluation Officer Mr Lovemore Makurirofa said, “The Strategy stresses the importance of cancer prevention as a long term strategy. Tobacco does not only cause lung cancer, but also contributes to other forms of cancer such as cervical cancer. Tobacco use among youths is now prevalent. In 10 years’ time, there will likely be an increase in cancer cases if these strategies are not implemented to reduce cancer prevalence in the near future.
“There is need to engage young people via anti-tobacco use campaigns, moreso as the risk of getting cancer through passive smoking can be equated to that of tobacco smokers.”
Cancer is fast becoming the world’s leading cause of death, with over 5 000 new cases diagnosed in Zimbabwe annually. About 40 percent of cases are preventable, but underfunding, information gaps and end-stage diagnoses have contributed to its proliferation. France progressively increased tobacco taxation from 1990, resulting in a spike in the inflation-adjusted price of cigarettes.
By 2005, cigarette consumption had dropped from around six per person per day to three per day.
In South Africa, total taxes on cigarettes rose from 32 percent to 52 percent of the retail price between 1993 and 2009, and this contributed to the halving of tobacco consumption from about four cigarettes per adult per day. In 2013, The Phillipines introduced a Sin Tax Reform Law and increased taxes by 340 percent, in the process earning an additional US$5,2 billion for health and other public services.
That country has an estimated 17,3 million tobacco consumers.