Saving lives by increasing tax on tobacco products

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Myanmar recorded an estimated 69,554 new cancer cases, with 51,059 people dying of the disease, in 2018. Not only has the figure risen steadily since, but it has also been predicted that cancer deaths will increase by over two-thirds by 2030.
Therefore, awareness needs to be raised among the people of Myanmar about cancer to help them understand the harmful effects of tobacco and betel use, the early signs of cancer, and the need to seek proper medical advice at an early stage.
If one does not know the early warning signs, the value of early intervention, or the risks of smoking or chewing betel, one’s behaviour will not change.
Among Myanmar men, the most prevalent forms of cancer are lung and oral cancer, which are linked to smoking and chewing of betel nut.
According to surveys, smoking and tobacco use, including chewing of betel quid, had increased from 4.9 per cent in 2007 to 8.3 per cent in 2016 in the 13-15 age group.
Over 12 billion rolls of cigarettes are consumed in Myanmar every year.
According to one research, 85 per cent of betel quid chewers prefer tobacco-added quid. Moreover, signs of oral cancer development can be found in 8.5 per cent of the chewers. Similarly, a joint research conducted by Japanese experts and the Myanmar Dental Association in Mawlamyine and Hpa-an in 2015-2016 had showed that 7.6 per cent of chewers had signs of oral cancer growth. If not properly treated in the early stages, they could develop into full-blown cancer.
These figures show the extent of the cancer problem in Myanmar. The cancer development rate among people who chew betel quid with added tobacco is 29 times higher than among non-chewers and six times higher than among tobacco-free chewers.
The situation has raised alarm and led to calls for taxation on tobacco and related products, along the lines practiced in other countries, to control the increasing rate of throat and oral cancers caused by chewing betel quid.
Increased taxes on cigarettes, tobacco, and alcohol in neighboring countries have resulted in reduction in the use of these tobacco-related substances.
The current taxation on tobacco and tobacco-related products has shown that it is not effective in controlling the disease. Therefore, the time has come to draw up strategic plans for higher taxes on tobacco and other carcinogenic products. A tax on such products should be incorporated into health policies. We must not forget that cancer is a major, but preventable threat affecting the lives of our people.

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