RATHER than a concern for people’s well-being, the purpose of an increase in the tobacco tax is to squeeze more money out of the nation’s smokers, Mayaro MP Rushton Paray told the House on Monday. He challenged Finance Minister Imbert’s intent by saying the minister proposed no public education campaign to dissuade smoking, even as Government stopped work on the Oncology Centre in Mt Hope.
Paray said Imbert was presenting himself as a Florence Nightingale to save the nation but proposed no preventative and rehabilitative measures to help people.
Saying Imbert had presented the tax-hikes “in almost altruistic terms,” Paray said taxation of alcohol and tobacco was an age-old trademark of the PNM dating back to Dr Eric Williams during which days it was deemed “a sin tax.” “It is our view on this side that the measure we are considering today is purely a revenue generating measure. It is cloaked under the guise of health but it is purely for revenue generation.”
Paray hit the Government for mothballing the Oncology Centre despite 3,000 cancer cases and 1,200 deaths each year from cancer. The Government preferred to spend $18 million on the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tobago rather than put the funds towards the oncology centre, he said.
He likened the tax-hikes to someone passing a hat around to raise funds for a visionless, tax-and-spend administration. Lamenting the Government’s alleged lack of innovativeness to expand the economy, Paray warned that citizens could expect more tax hikes, by emulating the late former prime minister George Chambers.
“What was missing from the Minister of Finance’s delivery today that surprised me was what are the options that can be used with the taxes that are collected today.” He said Imbert failed to mention funding any educational awareness programme on tobacco.
Paray asked if the Government was really serious about curbing tobacco use, as they had allowed the West Indian Tobacco Company (Witco) with two other firms to resume activities during the covid19 lockdown.
He also feared that raising taxes on tobacco could fuel the smuggling of imported illegal cigarettes, undermining the collection of corporation tax and VAT. He said Imbert had failed to say his goals for the tax hikes, including the amount of revenues intended to be raised and his target for reduced consumption.