President Abdulla Yameen ratified Thursday import duty hikes approved by parliament for cigarettes and energy drinks.
The price of a pack of cigarettes has shot up from MVR48 (US$3.11) to about MVR75 (US$5) after the import duty hike from MVR1.25 to MVR2 per cigarette came into effect. The price of a single cigarette is up from MVR2.50 to about MVR4.
The parliament also approved charging an additional 25 percent of the invoice value for all tobacco items.
With the higher tariff of MVR33.64 (US$2.2) per litre, the price of energy drinks has also increased by about MVR8. The tariff for soft drinks was hiked to MVR4.60 per litre.
Energy drinks such as Red Bull are very popular among Maldivian youth despite health risks associated with high caffeine content.
The import duty hikes were among a raft of revenue-raising measures proposed in the 2017 budget to generate MVR209 million (US$13.5 million) in additional income.
The voting took place amidst protests in the parliament chamber by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs.
Speaker Abdul Maseeh Mohamed called the vote while sitting in a seat reserved for ministers because MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail had taken over the speaker’s chair.
During the economic affairs committee’s review of the proposed hikes, Health Protection Agency officials had told lawmakers that that raising tariffs alone is ineffective without a multi-pronged approach to help smokers quit and discourage others from picking up the addictive habit.
HPA officials also bemoaned the lack of funds to conduct effective anti-smoking campaigns, pointing out that Philip Morris spends US$2.3 billion a year on marketing.
Customs officials meanwhile told MPs that the number of cigarettes imported to the Maldives increased to 497 million in 2016 from 460 million the previous year despite an import duty hike in April 2015 that jacked up prices from MVR38 (US $2.47) to MVR48 (US$3.11) a pack.
Stressing the importance of banning the sale of loose or single cigarettes – which also enables minors to begin smoking – Hassan questioned the effectiveness of the proposed 66 percent hike since the price increase in 2012 from MVR1 to MVR2.50 per cigarette did not reduce demand.
A 2011 survey found that 38 percent of men and 3.4 percent of women in the Maldives are smokers. According to the health ministry, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancers are now among the leading causes of death in the country.
According to customs officials, MVR622 million (US$40 million) was collected as import duties from cigarettes last year.
Fayyaz noted that the government could earn nearly MVR1 billion (US$64.8 million) by raising the tariff.
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Source URL: Maldives Independent