Winners declared for speaking contest on raising tobacco taxes

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A man smokes a cigarette in the capital’s Meanchey district. Heng Chivoan

The top three out of five finalists have been determined for an NGO-sponsored public speaking contest on the topic of “why Cambodia needs to increase taxes on tobacco”.

The five finalists showed off their public speaking ability by giving their speeches encouraging an increase in tobacco taxes for an online audience on November 25.

The first place winner received a prize of two million riel ($250) and second and third place received 800,000 riel each. All three received medals.

The contest was organised by the NGO Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to promote public health by explaining the negative impact of tobacco use.

In addition to explaining the health consequences of tobacco use, the youth contestants also encouraged the government to increase taxes on tobacco, which they said was a “win-win” measure to respond that would help the national economy.

They said a tax increase would help discourage people from using tobacco, which causes a higher risk of serious illness or death for those who contract Covid-19. It also increases the tax income for the state and the tax revenue can be used to further develop the country.

“Another reason to increase the tobacco tax is that our current tax is just 28 per cent as compared to other ASEAN countries like Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand which all have tobacco taxes of over 50 per cent of the retail price,” CMH said in their press release.

CMH executive director Mom Kong said tobacco companies often oppose the tax increases by saying it would actually somehow decrease state income from taxes, encourage illegal tobacco imports or force them to cut jobs if their revenues are reduced.

“Increasing the tobacco tax not only increases state revenue, it also improves the health of the population. I think Cambodia should increase the tax to 75 per cent of the tobacco retail price. That is also the recommendation of the World Health Organisation,” he said.

CMH said tobacco use caused illness, disability and early death. Around 15,000 Cambodians die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, costing the government $649 million or three per cent of Cambodia’s GDP.

The ministries of Education; Economy and Finance; and Health have all expressed a common interest in increasing tobacco tax.

Srey Vuth, a representative from the finance ministry, said at the ceremony announcing the contest winners that the government was not ignoring the issue of increasing the tobacco tax. He said it has already been discussed from both a financial and health perspective.

He said increasing the tobacco tax would require participation from the relevant stakeholders and the public and consideration of its advantages and disadvantages.

“The government is considering increasing this tax in accordance with the minimum acceptable goal,” he said.

Kim Sanh, an education ministry representative, also supported an increase in the tobacco tax.

“I completely support increasing the tobacco tax to 75 per cent of the retail price and continuation of efforts to restrict and control sales of tobacco. I support these youth voices who are demanding an increase in the tobacco tax,” he said.