x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cigarette price rise plan meets a major drawback

Health authority chief says tobacco cost will not be lifted in August as previously stated.

DUBAI // Moves to double the price of cigarettes are now in doubt.

On Wednesday, on the sidelines of the World Cardiology Conference, the head of the Dubai Health Authority Qadhi Al Murooshid said cigarette prices would rise in August.

He said the Dubai Municipality would be handling the increase, which would be imposed as a tax.

But the state news agency Wam on Thursday night quoted Mr Al Murooshid as saying a 200 per cent tax rise on tobacco products worldwide had been suggested by Prof Sydney Smith, the president of the World Heart Federation.

Mr Al Murooshid said applying the increase was the individual decision of every country, and denied news of the price rise in August.

Dr Nooshin Bazargani, the head of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Emirates Cardiac Society, on Wednesday confirmed the price increase, saying it would be applied through the Ministry of Finance.

"Both the tax and the [graphic warnings on] cigarette packaging are happening in August," Dr Bazargani said. "The Ministry of Finance would handle the taxation, and Emirates Standardisation and Metrology Authority [Esma] would handle the cigarette packaging."

Yesterday she declined to comment on the turnaround other than saying: "We will continue to work on it and we will do our best to make it happen."

Mohamed Saleh Badri, the acting director general of Esma, said graphic warnings taking up at least 50 per cent of cigarette packets would appear from August 9.

The Dubai Municipality said it was not aware of the decision to increase the prices. The Ministry of Finance has not responded to requests for comment.

Wedad Al Maidoor, the head of tobacco control at the Ministry of Health, which wants a federal tax on tobacco, attributed the reversal of the decision to possible confusion.

"It is not the Dubai Municipality that applies the regulation, it is customs or the Ministry of Finance," Ms Al Maidoor said. "However, the municipality can raise the retail price by requiring stores to acquire licences [to sell tobacco].

"I think this was a good initiative. Dubai is always a leader, and as a government, to start looking at increasing the retail price through indirect tax … would be a good effort."