July 1, 2010 - Egyptian smokers saw prices surge Thursday, July 1st by as much as 100 percent as the government slapped new taxes on tobacco products in a bid to curb smoking and raise money for public health programs in the Arab world's most populous nation.
As part of a new law passed in May but only being implemented now, the taxes raise the price of cigarettes by as much as 40 percent, while the tobacco used in Egypt's ubquitous water pipes, known locally as shisha, now costs twice as much.
Premium cigarettes such as Malboro Lights climbed to $2 per pack, up from $1.65, while Cleopatra brand, the iconic Egyptian classic where wood chips were once as prevalent as tobacco, now cost $0.80 per pack, up from $0.54.
The law is part of government efforts to curb smoking, which many Egyptians maintain is one of the few remaining affordable pleasures in a country where rising prices have sparked protests over the past few months.
Government officials say that the move is needed to help convince Egypt's millions of smokers to kick their habit. World Health Organization figures show the number of smokers in the country has grown over twice as fast as the population over the past 30 years. WHO figures show that around 40 percent of men in Egypt over the age of 15 use some form of tobacco, while 82 per cent of daily cigarette smokers consume between 16 and 20 cigarettes per day.
"Some people will be angry for some time, but I think it will decrease the consumption of tobacco," said Sahar Labib, the director of the Ministry of Health's tobacco department, adding that the increase in cigarette taxes was likely to elicit a stronger reaction because the tobacco used in the water pipes is still quite cheap.
At one of Cairo's many corner shops selling cigarettes, owner Hani Ishaq said on just the first day the tax had already had an effect. "I've noticed a drop in people buying cigarettes today," he said. "I smoke, and with this 40 per cent increase, I would probably buy half the cigarettes I would normally." "I hope this does not effect the shop too much," he added.
Reference: Egypt fights smoking with new tobacco tax, SARAH RASLAN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - MetroNews.ca, 7/1/2010.
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