Expected to take effect in the coming month, the GCC is placing a 100 percent “health tax” on cigarettes and other tobacco products imported into the area.
The finance ministers from the six Gulf States are meeting in May and will decide whether or not to approve the tax height said one Saudi official.
The Ministry of Health supervisor of the Saudi program which was designed to discourage smoking, Majed Al-Monief said the ministers of finance and health from the GCC states have already decided, at least in principal to raise the tariff from the present 100 percent to 200 percent.
"The new duty will be known as the 'health tax,' taking into account the huge amount of money each GCC state spends on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases as well as for the rehabilitation of smokers. The finance ministers will decide when the tax will take effect," Al-Moneif said.
"The GCC states can take a decision in this respect unanimously. The Gulf states had earlier hiked tobacco customs tariff from 50 to 100 percent, and are now moving toward making a further hike of 100 percent," he added.
The additional funds raised via the health tax will be used to help prevent smoking and hopefully lesson the destructive impact smoking has, especially on young people.
In spite of the heavy taxes which already exist on tobacco products in Saudi Arabia, imports climbed by 57 percent in 2011 compared to 2009. According to reliable statistics 22,000 deaths occur in Saudi Arabia every year from a variety of illnesses connected to tobacco use. The World Health Organization says there are 6 million smokers in the Kingdom, approximately 25 percent women.
Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest importer of tobacco in the world with average consumption per person estimated to be 2,130 cigarettes each year. According to the WHO about 5 million people die every year due to tobacco related ailments.