Targeted tax increases a metaphorical rope

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Aumugaolo Ropeti Ale

Early this year following a methodical thumbing that sucked the air out of the Tautua Samoa Party with desertions and devastating losses, PM Tuilaepa and the Human Rights Protection Party announced their vision of our future for the next five years. 

Central are political stability and the social and economic well-being for a rapidly growing, polarised and increasingly divisive population. 

 “A healthy and educated population is a prerequisite for effective and efficient management and development of Samoa. A healthy Samoa is the overarching goal for health development,” the manifesto claims.

In the wake of recent cigarette tax increases that one H.R.P.P official says, it was done for good reasons, that commitment to a “healthy Samoa” came into question as critics sharply criticized a government decision to approve construction of a Chinese-owned cigarette factory in Falelauniu. 

 “The government is looking at generating revenues to develop the country...at least Samoa will get money from it,” said Commerce, Industry and Labour Minister Lautafi Purcell. 

In usual H.R.P.P fashion, Lautafi was passionate in his defense as if God had spoken to him the night before. 

“Smoking is a personal choice,” as he alluded to freedom, one of only two Godly attributes guaranteed us from the moment we are born. 

PM Tuilaepa and the H.R.P.P’s position is in-line with the World Health Organisation. In its tobacco free initiative W.H.O highlights and I quote, “the importance of tobacco control in the post-2015 development agenda, and the potential for higher taxes on tobacco products to act as a large funding source for governments. 

“Taxing tobacco products has been proven to be the most effective tobacco control measure for reducing consumption, and therefore saving lives. Introducing higher tobacco taxation is a win-win policy: it not only saves lives, but it also increases government revenue that can then be spent on health and development priorities.”

W.H.O’s position lends credibility to PM Tuilaepa and the H.R.P.P’s argument. On the surface it’s a noble idea. Lautafi Purcell’s paternal explanation appears comforting, sincerely caring, loving and compassionate about our well-being and funding of sustainable development. 

Though PM Tuilaepa and the H.R.P.P’s argument as put forth by Lautafi may be true, it’s actually far, way far from the truth. One may find that opposite by simply flipping the argument around. It’s the same coin. 

The Samoa Observer may call it double standards, M.P. Aeau Peniamina may call it sad but to a prostitute, it’s pimping. A preacher may call it sinister but in eyes of the law it’s either suicide or homicide, depending on how one may use his God given freedom of choice. 

All as disturbing as it may sound, aimed at destroying and striping the poor, the majority of whom are indigenous Samoans, of dignity and justice in their own lands.

“We’ve known for a long time that smoking kills.” said Eric Jacobs, an epidemiologist with the  American Cancer Society.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. 

It causes more than 480,000 deaths each year.  Scientists also claim that cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including: tar (a mixture of chemicals); nicotine (an addictive substance); carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust fumes); ammonia (found in floor cleaner); and arsenic (found in ant poison).

Further, smoking causes cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, nose, voice box, oesophagus, pancreas, liver, stomach, kidney, bladder, ureter, bowel, ovary, cervix and bone marrow (myeloid leukaemia). Tobacco smoke also causes heart disease, stroke and emphysema.

The cigarette tax increases is a way for the government to raise funds from a group of people with limited political power according to the World Health Organization’s line of thinking. 

But P.M. Tuilaepa and his H.R.P.P government have stretched it a mile further to include alcohol and everyday foods that are vital to Samoa’s poor. Why? One might ask.

 The poor is generally less wealthy, less educated but never fail to vote, especially when bribed with money and or food. 

Compared to tax increases, say for instance, on fuel, a commodity vitally important to the wealthy and powerful, it would have been politically very difficult.  

So the poor in my view is an easy target. 

Targeted cigarette tax increases therefore, become more than a painful daily burden to the poor, especially those who may freely choose to continue to smoke, drink alcohol and buy unhealthy foods when it’s all they can afford. 

Targeted cigarette tax increases highlight and strain contested issues of race, racism and discrimination between classes: the powerful and the powerless; the newly arrived capitalist communist Chinese and Samoans of Chinese ancestry and indigenous Samoans; East and West; the haves and the have nots, the list goes on. 

Targeted cigarette tax increases also strip the poor of dignity and any chance at justice as long as government continues to take what little they may have left after God and his faifeau take. 

Tuilaepa and the H.R.P.P, in clear conscious, are putting around the poor’s neck so he may effectively hang himself and die. 

Yes, death that second Godly attribute guaranteed us from the moment we are born. 

Though God may not have intended it to be this cruel and unusual of a punishment, it’s exactly the type of chamber the poor, the majority of whom are indigenous Samoans, now find themselves in as government targets. 

So they have lead us to believe, the poor may wonder. 

Believe? Yes, believe! Why? Why do we believe? Yes. Because we don’t know! We believe because we simply don’t know. Isn’t that so? 

Ahhh...head shaking in confusion, eyes staring at the Heavens?

”I don’t know,” he quietly says to himself as he is being led away.

 

ropeti@hawaii.edu

© Samoa Observer 2016

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