THE Ministry of Health and Child Care is stepping up calls for higher tobacco taxes, arguing it will discourage smoking.
Zimbabwe held combined commemorations of World No Tobacco Day and the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Harare yesterday.
Dr Paul Chimedza, deputy minister of Health and Child Care, used the commemorations to ratchet up pressure on tobacco companies.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death.
Tobacco also contributes to the causes of life threatening ailments such as cancer, tuberculosis, asthma and cardio-vascular diseases, say anti-smoking campaigners.
“Let’s all work together in advocating for increase in tobacco taxes to levels that reduce consumption. Let’s also work together in creating awareness on dangers of illicit drug trafficking and illicit drug use in order to create a future generation which is free from illicit drug use and being used as drug traffickers,” Dr Chimedza said.
The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare Routine Monitoring System on the number of deaths and causes in 2008 found that deaths emanating from respiratory conditions that could be associated with smoking were 1,500, followed by those from viral infections at 1,320.
WHO country representative Dr David Okello concurred with Dr Chimedza that high taxes would deter people from smoking tobacco.
“High prices are particularly effective in discouraging young people, who often have more limited incomes, from taking up smoking,” he said.
Dr Okello said increasing tobacco taxes would also earn governments extra revenue which could and should be used to advance health.
“However, action on tobacco tax policy hits where it hurts. Governments should therefore be alert to the conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health,” he said.
Based on 2012 data, the WHO estimates that by increasing tobacco taxes by 50 percent, all countries would reduce the number of smokers by 49 million within the next three years and ultimately save 11 million lives.
Zimbabwe has not yet ratified the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), which is an international treaty composed of obligations to address the health and economic impacts of tobacco use.
Article 17 and 18 of the Convention seeks to explore a framework to switch from tobacco production to crops that do not pose a health risk to consumers.
The 2006 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of the population were smokers, 15 percent of them men while 0,4 percent were females.
Some commentators have however pointed out that there are other products that cause deaths apart from tobacco, for which the WHO has not set a framework in its more than 52 years of existence.
Tobacco contributes significantly to total agriculture earnings and national Gross Domestic Product for Zimbabwe and this year, the country has so far raked in $625 million from the sale of 196,6 million kilograms of the crop. – New Ziana