FG Supports ECOWAS Move to Harmonise Laws on Tobacco Control

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*Says increase taxation would reduce tobacco consumption in sub region
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The federal government has commended the move by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to harmonise all laws regulating the sales and consumption of tobacco products in the region.

To this end, the government declared that it would abide by whatever decision the community arrived at in its effort to curtail the rate of tobacco usage as well as tackling the illicit trade in tobacco products in the regions

Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, while declaring open the regional meeting of the ECOWAS to validate the draft directive on Track and Trace Systems for Tobacco Products and Review of the draft Supplementary Act on the Taxation of Income, Capital and Inheritance for ECOWAS member states, urged ECOWAS to expedite action on the implementation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) framework convention on tobacco control as well as the protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products.

The draft policy is aimed at reducing the high rate of tobacco consumption as well as eradicating the issue of illicit trade in tobacco which is said to be highly injurious to public health of the people as well as the economy of the sub region.

Adewole, who remarked that the meeting was coming at a time the issue of tobacco is at the front burner in Nigeria, called for concerted effort from all member states, adding that the issue would be best managed at an international level.

He said: “A key recommendation of the mission is the need to quickly ratify the protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products. For us, it’s a task that must be done and in the shortest possible time for obvious reasons.
“You will all agree with me that the issue of illicit trade in tobacco products across the he ECOWAS region calls for urgent attention as it poses dangers not only to public health but also to our economies and environment.”

The minister, while making reference to a WHO report, disclosed that about seven million people die annually from tobacco consumption across the world with 80 percent of the deaths in low and middle income countries.

“It is alarming to state that nearly 10 percent of the global tobacco trade is illicit and this is significantly higher in low and middle income countries, reaching up to 50 percent and above,” he added.

Adewole blamed the issue of proliferation of cheap tobacco products on the poor security situation across ECOWAS borders and expressed confidence that the treaty on track and trace systems implemented would greatly reduce the level of tobacco usage and also provide increase revenue that can be channeled to the development of the healthcare sector.

Also speaking, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, represented by Stephen Medeniyedu, said the harmonisation of laws establishing a system for tracing, tracking and tax verification of manufactured or imported tobacco products in ECOWAS member states is a welcome development for Nigeria.

“We are currently in the process of the amendment of the Customs, Excise Tariff, Etc. (Consolidation) Act, No. 16 of 1997 to ensure that both locally manufactured and imported goods are liable to excise duties. Currently, only goods manufactured in Nigeria are charged with duties of excise as specified in Schedule 5 of the Act.

“As part of on-going fiscal policy review efforts, the proposal for the review of the current Ad-valorem tax structure system to a specific or mixed tax system is considered. This is in order to limit manipulation by importers or producers due to the complexities in administration,” he said.

Medeniyedu noted that tobacco tax increases and higher tobacco product prices would raise fiscal revenue and reduce health hazards associated with tobacco-related diseases and alcohol abuse.

“This is because a system which keeps track of production at the appropriate levels would promote transparency and has the capacity to deliver increased revenue to the government through efficient administration.

Earlier, the Commissioner for Trade, Custom and Free Movement, ECOWAS Commission, Laouali Chaibou, observed that putting in place a strong taxation policy would help reduce the high rate of tobacco consumption in the sub region.