The International Tobacco Tax

The International Tobacco Tax

Earlier this month in Moscow, the World Health Organization (WHO) Conference of the Parties 6 (COP6) was held, with officials from around the world discussing a wide range of issues. One of those issues was an attempt to impose international taxes. We at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) signed on to a coalition letter urging the attendees to stay away from any new tax proposals that could harm the economies of nations across the globe.

What happened at the conference has given rise to even more concerns, both about taxation and about transparency. While the United States is not bound to anything being proposed, the tone being set on the international stage should worry taxpayers.

The attendees adopted a proposal for a 70 percent global excise tobacco tax -- after ensuring that tobacco farmers and media observers had been removed from the conference. Both the World Farmers Organization and INTERPOL were denied access prior to the vote actually taking place. No record was kept of what was said.

As Washington Times columnist Drew Johnson reported:

A tobacco reduction conference hosted by the World Health Organization, the United Nation's public health agency, took a hostile and alarming turn on Monday when the public was kicked out of the meeting. . . . Delegates from more than 175 countries who are part of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a UN global anti-tobacco treaty, agreed unanimously to boot spectators. Delegates then voted to ban the public from the Moscow conference center where the event is taking place for the duration of the week-long meeting.

"We don't need the public here!," proclaimed Uganda's representative. Libya's chief delegate Mohamed Ibrahim Saleh Daganee gritted his teeth as he demanded other delegates join him in voting to close the meeting to the public. "We don't know who these people are," complained Mr. Daganee, a former health information director under Muammar Gaddafi.

TPA has reported on tobacco taxes both here and abroad. Imposing (and increasing) tobacco taxes incentivizes black-market activity, costs businesses sales, and often generates far less revenue than expected. The recent coalition letter summed up the position of taxpayer groups from nations all over the world:

These international threats to tax sovereignty are real and they are expanding. Such policies would disproportionately hurt lower income people across the globe as the cost of consumer products would increase. Attempts at establishing international tax regimes would inordinately expand the reach of the EU and the UN. As leaders of groups that support free and open markets and tax competition, we oppose any effort on the part of any international body to levy further taxes on hardworking families.

Meeting secretly to plot to increase taxes is not the way to ensure a thriving global economy and robust participation from the United States and other countries. This is more a recipe for economic disaster.

TPA has been wary of the COP6 from the start. Unfortunately, some of the worst fears about the agenda were confirmed as the conference unfolded. Decisions on taxation should be left to individual nations, not to the World Health Organization.

Michi Iljazi is communications and policy manager for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

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