A great many Guyanese, men and women are smokers. Who aren’t smoking cigarettes, are smoking weed or both.
The government, apparently, had contemplated increasing the taxes on cigarettes so as to discourage smoking. Taxing cigarettes would be a case of a sin tax. It is a tax on an item which the government considers is either against public morals or health. The Surgeon General has deemed the smoking of cigarettes as injurious to your health.
Taxing cigarettes will not necessarily discourage smoking. There was a time when cigarettes were not imported into Guyana. This was because of a shortage of foreign exchange. This restriction lasted for years and the price of a puff skyrocketed.
This is the practice of Guyanese buying less than a packet of cigarettes developed. Persons could not afford to buy a whole packet of cigarettes. That was something which only doctors, lawyers, and business people could have afforded.
The smuggling of cigarettes into Guyana became rampant. Things were hard and a lot of smuggled cigarettes were peddled by roadside vendors. The prices of course were high. The high prices caused widespread smuggling. The government lost because, obviously, no taxes were paid on the smuggled cigarettes.
Corruption increased. Policemen used to harass persons whom they caught selling by the roadside. Others who sold openly were suspected to be receiving protection from the police, for a fee. Even the police officers in the stations were forced to buy the smuggled cigarettes just so that they could enjoy a smoke.
The persons who profited during that era were the smugglers. A number of persons made big money in those days from smuggling cigarettes. The vendors made something and the police force began to be corrupted even more, because of the bribes that had to be paid to allow the smugglers and vendors to ply their trade.
Any increase in the taxes on cigarettes toady is not going to reduce cigarette smoking. All it will do is to push the importation and sale of cigarettes underground. The government will lose billions in taxes which are presently collected if the tax were to increase.
Increasing taxes, in Guyana, does not always lead to reduced consumption or conservation. The reason is because Guyana has porous land and water borders, which makes smuggling relatively easy.
Many brands of smuggled cigarettes are on the market. If you go by any market you will find persons selling brands that are not imported by the authorized importers in Guyana. You will also find a few counterfeit brands on the market. Increasing the taxes will only make the illegal importation more profitable.
What the government needs to do is to ban smoking in public places. If people want to smoke, let them smoke in their personal spaces. Smokers are endangering the health of non-smokers by smoking in public.
A total ban cannot be placed on smoking. We have alcoholics in Guyana who if they do not get a drink will get very sick or go crazy. We also have cigarette addicts who if they do not get a smoke will probably die.
There are public events such as concerts and sporting events at which persons are allowed to smoke. You can be sitting in your seat at the National Stadium in Providence enjoying a game of cricket and savouring the fresh air, when someone is going to come and sit ether next to you or in front of you and light up a cigarette.
You can complain all you want. You can explain to them that their smoking is affecting you and endangering the health of everyone around. It will make no difference. You will not get that person to extinguish their cigarette. The person will continue to puff away to fury while you imagine years from now, yourself having to take chemotherapy for cancer because this fool in front of you or next to you will not stop smoking.
The government should ban smoking in public places. I know you will say ‘but this is already the case’. You will say that Ramsammy already did this. Well, it is just another example of the laws either not being enforced or being unenforceable.
Instead of taxing cigarettes, ban smoking in all public places.
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