There are opportunities to maximize the effectiveness of food and tobacco tax to help address Samoa’s Non-Communicable Disease crisis.
This is according to a report released by the World Bank. Samoa is one of the first countries in the Pacific to introduce taxation measures to address Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).
The predicted probability of dying from NCDs between the ages of 30 and 70 years is more than double in Samoa compared to high-income nations in the Pacific region. Over several years, the Government of Samoa has imposed excise taxes on several products including cigarettes, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).
The planned tax increase has been delayed from 2021. While the plan was approved by the cabinet and about to be implemented, it was delayed at short notice due to the national election. It was further delayed by the subsequent change in the government. According to the Ministry for Customs and Revenues, the new government is considering implementation in early 2023.
This includes raising excise taxes on tobacco and SSBs and introducing import duty and/or excise taxes on imported high-fat cuts of lamb, syrups, confectionery, biscuits, ice cream, and french fries.
Simultaneously, there are plans to reduce and/or waive import duty on selected vegetables, fresh chicken, and bottled water.
The World Bank report outlined recommendations including Unified food tax measures that should be applied to imported and locally produced foods to offset the likely substitution of unhealthy imported foods with locally produced foods.
Taxes on food should be guided by nutritional information. The Samoa Nutrient Profile Model could be used to guide food tax measures. Also, the annual increases to tobacco tax should continue. It is suggested that tax increases greater than the current 5 per cent per year be considered.
Fiscal policy options should be reviewed to address alcohol consumption. There are no current plans to increase the tax on alcohol products but this may be an important measure to reduce alcohol-related harm as well as obesity risk.
Furthermore, new tax policies from the Ministry of Finance should be supported by multisectoral interventions by other government agencies, for example, the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Also, the revenues raised through tax increases should be better disclosed and considered to be used for specific health promotion activities to strengthen public support.