Alcohol, Tobacco Taxes to Go Up

New York — CONCERNED by the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases, the Government is considering raising alcohol and tobacco taxes to finance the prevention and treatment of such conditions.

The move will push retail prices of the products upwards.

Speaking ahead of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs, which begins here today, Health and Child Welfare Minister Dr Henry Madzorera said he would present the proposals to Cabinet after the Summit.

Although statistics were not readily available, he said alcohol and tobacco were responsible for a good number of NCDs.

A non-communicable disease is a medical condition that is non-infectious, for instance, cancer and diabetes.

“We are going to propose taxes on tobacco and alcohol; Government will look into the issue. Taxes reduce consumption (of the two products) and the money raised will go towards improving programmes related to the diseases they cause,” he said.

“There are more deaths caused by NCDs than HIV and Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined. A total of 80 percent of premature deaths caused by NCDs are in developing countries.

“Initially, people thought NCDs were for the affluent and had not realised they are the causes of high mortality. However, we have woken up to the reality.”

Dr Madzorera said the proposal is in line with the World Health Organisation’s Zero Draft of the UN Summit Outcomes Statement, which, among other issues, urges member states to set up domestic financing mechanisms and utilise available resources efficiently to fight NCDs.

He said the Government was working diligently to combat this group of diseases, but continued to experience financial challenges.

He said specific policies and regulations should be refined to leverage ongoing efforts.

Such an initiative includes enforcing public smoking regulations and curtailing tobacco and alcohol advertising.

“When we look at regulations, there are conventions such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. We, as Zimbabwe, have not yet signed that convention. The convention seeks to limit advertisements of tobacco and to ensure such advertisements inform the public about the hazards of tobacco. It also seeks to ban public smoking to eliminate passive smoking.

“Furthermore, the convention promotes the production of alternative crops.

“This is voluntary, and those that do switch to different crops will be funded for the transition.

“The convention will not affect our tobacco revenues, as 98 percent of this revenue is generated outside the country. It is the 2 percent that we want to look at.”

The minister said the Summit marks a turning point in the fight against the diseases.

“The most important aspect is that the Summit is the second the UN has convened to look at a (global) health issue.

“We learnt from the last Summit that better results - in terms of financing of disease prevention and treatment - are attained when there is commitment at the highest level of Heads of State and Government.

“We want to ride on the 2001 meeting to deal with NCDs and hope that financing improves. We also hope this will mobilise the global community as the last Summit did.”

The high-level meeting seeks to formulate a co-ordinated global strategy to deal with NCDs, which cause 60 percent of deaths across the world. Cancers, cardiovascular ailments, chronic respiratory disorders and diabetes will feature prominently.

The President of the General Assembly will today chair plenary meetings where UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan and a civil society representative are scheduled to make presentations.

Three roundtable discussions are expected to tackle the rising incidence and socio-economic impact of NCDs and their risk factors. Also to come under the spotlight will be methods of strengthening the national capacities and policies of member states to address their prevention and control.

The meeting will finally adopt an action-oriented outcome document.

The Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance is pushing for more aggressive approaches in dealing with NCDs. The alliance - consisting of the International Diabetes Federation; Union for International Cancer Control; World Heart Federation and International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease -represents 880 societies in 170 countries.

The grouping and the Lancet NCD Action Group have since published a Summit paper proposing priority action points that include leadership, prevention, treatment, international co-operation as well as monitoring and accountability.

They also proposed interventions such as tobacco control, salt reduction, improved diets and physical activity, reduction in hazardous alcohol intake, and essential drugs and technologies.

Published by the government of Zimbabwe

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