Mr. Sulaiman Al Dohyyan, VAT and Excise Tax Program Advisor at the General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GAZT), met Dr. Ali bin Muhammad Al-Wadei, Supervisor General of Tobacco Control Program, and Dr. Hessah Al-Hussaini, Director of the Diet and Physical Activity Program at the Ministry of Health.
The teams of both authorities worked on coordination of the media campaign messages and tools to raise awareness of the definition, significance, reasons behind the excise tax and the positive effects expected when this tax comes into effect within the next few months.
This meeting aims to enforce the excise tax approved by the GCC countries including Saudi Arabia to reduce consumption of the goods that cause health, social, psychological, economic and environmental problems, Mr. Al Dohyyan said.
The currently excisable goods are tobacco products, soft drinks and energy drinks, according to him.
The Executive Board of the GCC Health Ministers Council contributed effectively to the decision of excise tax as a part of the unified VAT agreement team, said the GAZT official.
The Executive Board was keen to enforce taxes to cut down the consumption of harmful goods as a part of the efforts to face such goods including tobacco products, soft drinks and energy drinks, he said. These efforts will be integrated with therapeutic and awareness efforts for which the Saudi Ministry of Health established two programs: Tobacco Control Program (TCP) and National Diet and Physical Activity Program (DPA).
The TCP aims to reduce the consumption and harmful effects of tobacco products while the DPA is mainly designed to cut down the consumption of soft drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened refreshments and reduce their bad effects, he said. "We in GAZT and particularly the Excise Tax Awareness Committee believe that the program officials are the best conveyors of the awareness messages. They can reach out to the targeted segments and make them understand the message of this tax and take a positive stance by either completely ceasing to consume or strictly limiting such harmful goods to avoid negative impacts on health, environment and economy", he said.
Dr. Al-Wadei, TCP Supervisor General, stressed the need to accelerate the application of excise tax as it has a tangible effect, as proven by experiment in other countries, on reducing the consumption of tobacco among medium-income segments and below.
The TCP has been working for years to raise the prices of tobacco products on the end user by imposing more charges, duties and other taxes including the excise tax to reduce the consumption and impacts of such goods including the expensive cost of treatment and cessation borne by the state and the citizen, he said. The Ministry of Health has 20 programs to control smoking at all health directorates across the country. Smoking, he said, has multiple health, social and psychological effects including the first hand and second hand smokers and life partners in addition to its harmful effects on environment and economy. it is time now for smokers to assume their responsibilities towards themselves and their society. They should bear the costs of the economic damage inflicted on state to treat and help them quit this bad habit, said Al-Wadei.
Dr. Hessah Al-Hussaini, Director of DPA, said that controlling harmful products such as tobacco, soft drinks and energy drinks is not easy. These products, she said, are supported by companies which make billions from them, she said. These companies set up barriers against the control efforts, using smart and deceptive methods to promote their products and lure young people to depend on them, she noted. This deception is evidently reflected in soft and energy drinks companies sponsoring sports events. This is not consistent with the health risks of these drinks especially for children and youth, she explained. "We are very happy with the excise tax. We hop it will be brought to effect very soon in the Kingdom", Dr. Al Hussaini said indicating the risks of energy drinks particularly for children and young people below the age of 18. These drinks, she said, contain large amounts of caffeine, taurine and sugar; which are very risky for children and youth.
Consuming more than 100 mg of caffeine and more than 2000 mg of taurine will increase the risks of heart disease in these groups. One 250cm3 can contains 80 mg of caffeine and 1000 mg of taurine. This means that the risk will be higher for children and youth, the top consumers of energy drinks, if they consume more than two cans per day. Soft drinks have multiple risks as they make you gain weight and negatively affect the salivary enzymes that are important for digestion, she said. They include caffeine that increases heart rate, raises blood pressure, blood sugar, gastric acid, and hormones in the blood stream, and affects iron absorption causing anemia. The diet version of these drinks have artificial sweetners which affect the brain and causes gradual memory loss and liver cirrhosis. The phosphoric acids added to these drinks increase the risk of osteoporosis. Most countries imposed excise tax to reduce the consumption of tobacco, energy drinks and refreshments that contain sugar.
The prices of these materials are much higher than that in GCC countries and the KSA. This required intervention in the prices to reduce consumption and bad effects of these products as a part of tobacco control law which states in Article 6 that pricing and taxation measures should be taken to curb the demand on tobacco.