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Finance Minister Colm Imbert speaks in Parliament yesterday during a motion on the Provisional Collection of Taxes Order, 2020.

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It costs roughly half a $500,000 million to treat a lung cancer patient in Trinidad and Tobago.

This fact was one of the points raised by Minister of Finance Colm Imbert in a motion in the House of Representatives yesterday to increase taxation on tobacco products under Provisional Collection of Taxes Order.

“So we have decided for health reasons as I said, it costs half a million dollars to take care of one patient with lung cancer. So we’ve decided to continue with the system of de-incentivising smoking and this order will lead to a 20 per cent increase in excise duty on locally manufactured tobacco products,” he said.

“Smoking is not just dangerous in terms of lung cancer. It’s also a risk factor for cancers of the mouth, the larynx, the pharynx oesophagus, the kidney, the cervix, the liver, the bladder, the pancreas, stomach, colon and it is a risk factor for leukaemia. There is no safe way to use tobacco. Absolutely none,” said Imbert during his contribution.

Imbert explained that he received letters from the Cancer Society of Trinidad and Tobago concerning the increase of taxes, as Trinidad and Tobago continues to be one of highest consumers of tobacco in the age range 30 to 50.

“I got one letter from the Cancer Society of Trinidad and Tobago which indicated that our taxes on tobacco are among the lowest in the world a fraction of what obtains another country. And a number of articles and papers and statistics on what cancer does and the damage that tobacco does to people and how it causes cancer and so on so I got one letter from the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society, urging us to increase taxes on tobacco to de-incentivise,” said Imbert.

“It has been shown that increases in taxes on tobacco in Trinidad and Tobago do exit downward pressure on consumption,” said the Finance Minister.

However, Opposition MP Rushton Paray questioned the real intention of the increase, as he believed the motive had more to do with revenue generation than wider public health.

“What we are debating has nothing to do with as the Minister of Finance would have said in his budget presentation, the negative consequences associated with the high consumption of these products. It has all to do with raising money here and there and everywhere without a systemic strategic plan,” said Paray.

“This is the very same government that rushed during the heights of the COVID-19 shutdown to resume the operation of a local tobacco manufacturer. Madam Speaker, on May 9th, while most national operations were closed, the Prime Minister announced that three manufacturers will be granted permission to resume activities one was TCL, which is our cement manufacture new iron steel producer and West Indian Tobacco, which makes tobacco products,” said Paray.

He also questioned the decision not to complete the National Oncology Centre, which was rebuffed by Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh, as the project had stalled long before the previous’ administration’s tenure while costing $244 million before the decision to stop work on the project.

Deyalsingh further explained that the opening Linear Accelerator (LINAC) Wing at St James also reaffirmed the government’s approach to cancer treatment.

Deyalsingh also explained that the tax increase fell in line with a World Health Organisation (WHO) framework convention that Trinidad and Tobago signed over 15 years ago.

“Under that WHO sponsored measure we have signed on and ratified that we will implement both price and tax measures and non-price measures to decrease demand for tobacco,” said Deyalsingh.

The motion was passed in the Parliament.