Friday, September 05, 2008

Inhale Exhale

Abolish Unethical Sin Taxes

My contention in writing this article is to bring to the attention of the government that it is wrong to use money from a sin industry for developmental purposes. Or is it really a sin industry? My firm belief is that it is not. It is a rightful, legal industry serving those who choose to use their products. This being the case, the industry should be subject to taxes as is normally charged on any other consumer product. You cannot on one hand say it is a sinful industry and then continue to enjoy the money derived from such so-called sinful activities to offset our national budget deficits or for other developmental activities.

For many I am sure, this article would be a shocker. However, it requires careful reading and understanding. The issue of cigarette smoking and its effects on human health is quite well understood. However, there are other aspects which seem to have been completely overlooked but which needs serious thought.

Cigarettes are derived from tobacco. Tobacco is a plant whose common name is Nicotiana tabacum.

1) It is one of the very few crops entering world trade entirely on a leaf basis;
2) It is the most widely grown commercial non-food plant in the world;
3) It holds high importance in financial and economic policies in many countries;
4) Consumption is by way of smoking, inhaling or chewing and is a habit forming narcotic, and although bans of its use have been attempted, its consumption marches steadily forward;
5) Originally having religious significance, subsequent claims of medicinal benefit have alternated with accusations of a positive danger to health.

When we talk of cigarette smoking, we think of the hazards of smoking and its harmful effects on human health. A packet of cigarettes in the market has the following warning:

Let me now list some of the dangers of smoking to human health:
1) Tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of cancer and has been estimated to account for about 30% of cancer deaths in the United States. Smoking increases the risks of many types of cancer including cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix;

2) Smoking is also causally associated with many other diseases besides cancer, including coronary heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and bronchitis, as well as adverse outcomes of pregnancy. Well over 400,000 premature deaths in the United States each year are attributable to cigarette smoking.

3) Smoking affects a person's health in many ways, having both immediate and long term ill-effects on your quality of life. It is a serious addiction, caused by the drug nicotine. Once inhaled, nicotine from smoking reaches the brain almost immediately (within seven seconds). Milligram for milligram, the nicotine contained in all cigarette smoke is more potent than heroin.

Nicotine causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, and the air passages in your lungs constrict, making it more difficult for you to breathe. This is dangerous for even the healthiest person and can be disastrous to anyone with a medical illness. As small blood vessels constrict, your skin temperature may also decrease, causing your fingers, toes and skin to feel cold. Smoking dulls more than your social appeal, it decreases your senses; particularly your sense of smell and taste.

Finally, carcinogens, or cancer causing agents, and toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, enter your blood. This can cause chest pain and disturbance of your heart rhythm during physical activity or exercise. The long-term effects of smoking are dangerous. Smoking contributes to various respiratory diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or a shortness of breath and eventual chronic cough leading to extreme breathing difficulties. Lung infections, including frequent colds, flu and pneumonia are much more common and severe in smokers.

In addition, smoking leads to cardiovascular illnesses such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease (clogged arteries). As arteries constrict, there is also a greater risk of stroke, which results in a disruption of the flow of blood carrying oxygen to the brain. In fact, studies show that smokers are two to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than non-smokers, and the risk of cardiovascular disease is highest for smokers with high blood pressure and relatively high for women who smoke and use oral contraceptives.

In addition to causing lung cancer, smoking has been linked to other forms of cancer including cancer of the throat (or voice box), cancer of the mouth, larynx and esophagus; and cancer of the kidneys, pancreas, stomach and bladder.
Pregnant women who smoke have a greater chance of giving birth to stillborn, low-birth weight or premature babies, or of having a miscarriage .

Benefits of Tobacco

The benefits of tobacco are evident for the farmers who use their land for tobacco growing. Often, the earnings from the sale of tobacco are their only source of income for the feeding and clothing of these families.

The benefits of tobacco can be seen in its natural production of a neurotoxin named alkaloid nicotine. This neurotoxin, when combined with other ingredients used in pesticides, is quite effective for the eradication and control of pests.

Another benefit of tobacco has been discovered by scientists. A by-product of cigarette smoke is carbon-dioxide which in high doses is lethal. However, scientists have discovered that in low dosages, carbon-dioxide in a person's bloodstream prevents blood from "clotting". Blood-clots in the bloodstream is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Most nations benefit from tobacco via the Billions of tax dollars generated every year through the production and sale of tobacco.

Can there be anything good in cigarettes?

There are some which many have never heard of. However, don't get me wrong. I am not advocating cigarette smoking but this could be interesting reading. Let me list the following:

The benefits of smoking tobacco have been known since ancient times. Reliable scientific research has turned up the shocking news that tobacco smoke can be good for your health. Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Tourette's Syndrome, even schizophrenia and cocaine addiction are disorders that are alleviated by tobacco. There is even evidence that tobacco helps prevent colon and prostate cancers. You will be surprised that the news media have simply not been reporting the research presenting the good side of a food or herb that is not politically correct. BUT EVEN CIGARETTES, if smoked in moderation have been proven harmless.

The web site: lists the therapeutic effects of smoking.

The web site does give some explanations on how to reduce the harm caused by cigarette smoking. This could be interesting reading.

Having said the above, both on the hazards of smoking as well as the benefits to some people, we certainly CANNOT discount the fact that the tobacco industry is a legal industry permitted by law. There are thousands of Malaysians employed in this industry through which they maintain their entire families. Their tobacco imports are legal and so are the manufacturing processes that strictly adhere to good manufacturing practices. Their large network includes sales managers, sales executives, marketing personnel, research officers, salesmen, sales agents, distributors, retailers - all are direct beneficiaries of this industry.

How can this industry be classified a 'sinful industry' that calls for extremely huge 'sin' taxes year in and year out at every budget session delivered in parliament? Any legal business that is fully supported by the government cannot by any yardstick be classified as sinful business that calls for persistent levy of sin taxes. I call this outrageous and sheer exploitation.

The government levy of taxes on cigarettes manufactured by local companies are huge, exceeding 100% and this has been going on for the last few decades. The money derived from these sin taxes on cigarettes run into hundreds of millions of ringgit. This is the same sin money that is used to build mosques, schools, hospitals, colleges and other development programs in the country.

My contention in writing this article is to bring to the attention of the government that it is wrong to use money from a sin industry for developmental purposes. Or is it really a sin industry? My firm belief is that it is not. It is a rightful, legal industry serving those who choose to use their products. This being the case, the industry should be subject to taxes as is normally charged on any other consumer product. You cannot on one hand say it is a sinful industry and then continue to enjoy the money derived from such so-called sinful activities to offset our national budget deficits or for other developmental activities.

If, on the other hand, it is not a sinful industry as it is a legal and lawful activity, then these sin taxes should be abolished and be subject to normal tax levies as any other consumer product. I reckon there should be certain fairness on this. If cigarette taxes are used to offset budget deficits or to provide healthcare to the Malaysian public, then it would appear that every time my neighbor lights his heavily-taxed cigarette, I am a direct beneficiary of his personal expenditure. That should not be the case.

I would also reckon that the government of the day is actually encouraging all loyal citizens to go out and buy cigarettes so the government can maintain itself in managing its economy through its excessive taxes imposed on cigarettes. Come on, this is sinful thinking and must stop. Please find better ways of raising revenue through proper political, economic and social management.

Further more, I propose that the so called sin taxes which are mischievously misleading be abolished and be replaced with the normal consumer taxes as is levied on any other consumer product. Even so, the tax collected from cigarette products should be channeled exclusively for the healthcare of smokers and nothing else. You could use the funds for educational purposes so that more people are made aware of the hazards of smoking and a caring government could probably give out anti-smoking remedies cost-free. In this way will you be helping the so-called smoking community.

Tax free sales of cigarettes:

Cigarettes are available 100% tax free at Langkawi and all international airports in Malaysia. If the government is deeply concerned about sinful activity then why have tax-free sales of cigarettes in the country at all. Why have double standards for different segments of the population? It sounds rather dubious with dubious intentions.

I would consider sinful activities as abortion, consumption of anti-pregnancy drugs (contraceptive pills) where young, unmarried women can easily be involved in promiscuous activities without getting pregnant or which can promote prostitution activities in society. Can the government seriously consider imposing sin taxes on these activities? That would be appreciated.

Multiple taxes on the same product

I would also like the government of the day to look at the unfair practices as far as cigarettes are concerned. Firstly, the tobacco itself is subject to taxes in the form of customs duties. There is then the huge direct taxation which is something more than 100% of the cost of manufacturing cigarettes itself. The direct taxes are what we see at every national budget speech in parliament. It is this humongous cigarette tax that is used to partly offset budget deficits and for national development. This is what I call sinful actions of the government of the day that needs correction.

Dr Mathew
Petaling Jaya


*Tiap tahun semasa pembentangan Belanjawan di Parlimen, semua perokok-perokok seluruh Malaysia akan menunggu berapa sen lagi nak naik harga rokok. Beberapa tahun kebelakangan ni mmg melampau naik, 40 sen 60 sen 80 sen. Kalau dulu zaman Mahathir naik pun 10/20 sen. Yang jadi masalahnya kata Belanjawan prihatin untuk rakyat. Tapi rakyat dibebankan dengan cukai yang melampau untuk rokok. Harap kerajaan boleh keluarkan kenyataan berapa juta setahun pendapatan dari cukai rokok dan bagaimana wang tersebut dibelanjakan.

Mimpi je lah kot kerajaan nak buat cam tu


Jingga Studies said...

giler laaaaa!!! semua benda naik!! kalau aku jadi pm aku turun harga rokok!! vote for me!

A!r!eS said...

dah rokok naik tuh..u tak yah lah beri rokok..huhu muahzzz

Ilusi Dalang said...

sikit sikit je sayang hehehe