It’s a tough one. But then it must be said the critics of the government’s tobacco laws have a legitimate point.
In this life, you’ve got to make your mind up about which direction you’re heading. You cannot go both ways or someone would get seriously hurt.
A few weeks ago, the cost of basic food items like bread, sugar and salt among a range of other products increased. The price increase covered the cost of tobacco and alcohol following the passing of the new Excise Tax Rate Amendment Act 2016 in Parliament.
At the time, the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Seigafolava Hunt, said the increase is necessary to try and curb the consumption of unhealthy food and cigarettes among the population.
“The government prioritises the health of its people,” he said. “This is the reason for the excise tax on cigarettes, alcohol and products that we know will greatly affect their health.”
The Associate Minister of the Ministry of the Prime Minister, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga added that if an item is expensive, it could pressure people to have second thoughts about buying them. He was referring to efforts to curb cigarettes and alcohol consumption.
Well fine then. We say that although it is difficult to swallow another increase on top of the current cost of living, the government has a point in terms of promoting the health message.
But there is a snag. In one breath, the government is promoting healthy living by discouraging people from smoking and drinking alcohol but in the next breath, it is doing the total opposite by opening up a new cigarette factory at Falelauniu.
With that, some Members of Parliament argue that it would only hurt low-income earners even more who will obviously do anything to get a puff.
Others say this is the worst form of double standards by a government struggling to keep the boat afloat at a very challenging time for the economy. We can hardly blame them, can we?
But not so, according to the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour, Lautafi Fio Purcell.
“In any country where there is a Tobacco company, there is always this argument about the risks of smoking,” Lautafi said.
“The reality is that anyone who smokes a cigarette whether it’s manufactured here or not, they will go out to find it and buy it. It comes down to a personal choice.
He added: “The choice of smoking is up to the person. Even if we don’t have a tobacco company here, people will buy cigarettes from overseas.
“We didn’t have such companies in the past but people still smoked … it’s just that today there is more promotion on healthy living.”
Lautafi is correct to an extent. The difference is that the cost of a package of cigarettes then was not $12 tala. It was much, much less.
But then all this confusion could have been avoided if they would just tell us the truth.
And in Lautafi, what we all feared as the bitter truth was revealed. According to the Minister, the decision to approve the license for a second cigarette company was made based on a “revenue perspective.”
“The government is also looking at generating revenues to develop the country,” he said.
“The government gets revenue from it and also from excise tax.”
Lautafi added that “at least Samoa will get money from it.” Why didn’t they just come out and say that in the first place. Spare us this song and dance about healthy living and what not. After all, looking at some of those M.Ps, it’s hard to say that they look their message.
Another benefit he pointed to is the company’s plan to use locally grown tobacco, known as tapa’a, to make the product. He said the locals who harvest the plant could sell them to the company.
“That is what we want to encourage,” said Lautafi. “We want our local materials to be utilised instead of setting up an office here and bringing in things from elsewhere.”
Folks, isn’t this government a class act? So what exactly is the message here? Are they serious about stopping people from smoking or are both the increase in the prices of goods and the decision to open another cigarette factory merely money making ventures?
Isn’t this another classic case of placing money and revenues before suffering, health and innocent lives? What do you think?
Have a safe weekend Samoa, God bless!