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Leading tobacco control experts gathered in Bogotá, Colombia, to discuss tobacco taxation at an event organised by Union grantee, the Anáas Foundation, in partnership with Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano.

The event comes just ahead of important debates by Congress on tobacco taxes in the country.

Increasing tobacco taxes to ensure that tobacco products become increasingly unaffordable is a core policy to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In 2018, the taxes on tobacco products have increased in Colombia for the second consecutive year. The 200% tax increase accumulated over the past two years has contributed to the real price of cigarettes in Colombia increasing by 41 percent between December 2016 and October 2018.

To see this trend continue, experts want to see a further increase in tobacco tax for 2019 but in the initial proposal for a Public Finance Reform, being debated by Congress, a new rise was not mentioned.

Dr. Prabhat Jha, leading epidemiologist and health economist who spoke at the recent event said: “Global experience shows that tax increases are the most successful policy. In Colombia, for instance, increasing prices by 100 percent would save 300 thousand lives, because price increases triggered by tax hikes slow down purchases. The higher costs to consumers encourages smokers to quit and reduce treatment costs to the health care system.”

The Regional Director of The Union Latin America, Dr. Gustavo Sóñora said: “Raising tobacco taxes is a win-win-win policy because improve the public health, bring benefits to the public health and the public finances, decrease the health costs and increase the tax revenues”.

Blanca Llorente, Senior researcher at Anaas, also speaking at the event said: “The Colombian government should multiply by three the current excise tax. Tax revenues will continue their upward trend and may get closer to US$470 million per year. But most importantly, we would ensure that the current prevalence continues to drop and eventually reach 5 percent, reducing the financial burden to the health care system currently estimated at 0.6% of GDP.”

The participation of Dr. Prabhat Jha and Dr. Guillermo Paraje, two leading experts in the field, was possible thanks to the collaboration of the Global Tobacco Economics Consortium (GTEC) and the American Cancer Society.

The event was part of a Union grant for advancing and consolidating tax policy in Colombia, led by Blanca Llorente (Anáas Foundation) and Norman Maldonado (Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano), with funding from the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use (BI). The funding has also supported the development of the “Tax Monitoring Tool (IMPIT)”. This tool allows to keep a careful record of the results of tobacco tax policy, and is an example of the importance of building performance indicators to inform decision makers on the overall context of taxes.

 

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