Cruz Calls for Tobacco Tax Increase

by The Office of Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz
Stripes Guam

(October 12, 2017- Hagåtña) - Recognizing that tobacco continues to kill more people than alcohol, auto accidents, and illicit drugs combined—Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz is strengthening local efforts to control the deadly product. Introduced yesterday afternoon, Bill No. 199-34 (COR) proposes to raise the tax on all tobacco products—pending voter approval at the next general election as required by Guam law. In addition to the long-overdue proposal, Cruz also introduced Resolution No. 267-34 (COR), urging U.S. ratification of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

“When our insurers say it costs fifty times more to treat a smoker than a nonsmoker, don’t think that tobacco use only harms the smoker,” said Cruz.

Cruz, who recently received the National Distinguished Advocacy Award from the American Cancer Society for his landmark legislation on tobacco control, introduced the bill in his continued efforts to curb one of the highest smoking rates in the country. According to a brief published by the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center (PEACE Office), tobacco takes the life of one individual per day on Guam. With approximately 30% of the population smoking daily, tobacco consumption also leaves Guam’s people with the highest rate of lung and oral cancer.

If Cruz’s measure is enacted, the tax rate will increase from $15 to $20 for every 100 cigarettes; 44 to 58 cents per each standard cigar, and $40 to $53 per pound of all other tobacco products. In accordance with § 16311, Title 3 of the Guam Code Annotated, the measure will take place 30 days after ratification by referendum in November 2018, unless the legislative body votes to waive the requirement.

“Taxation is a proven tool in combating tobacco use on Guam,” said Cruz. “While this tax increase won’t cover the total cost of smoking born by this community, it will increase the resources available to tobacco cessation and other health related programs.”

The Speaker also reintroduced his call for the U.S. Senate’s ratification of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) through Resolution No. 267-34 (COR). Established in 2003, FCTC is a historic, international public health treaty binding 181 participating countries to a series of regulatory measures aimed at reducing tobacco addiction across the globe.

Cruz, who has introduced the FCTC resolution for the fourth time now, contends that while some FCTC policies can be implemented, or strengthened through local legislation, a significant number of the guidelines—such as advertisement, product packaging and labeling requirements—fall under federal jurisdiction, and, therefore, can only be achieved through U.S. ratification of the FCTC.

If the Speaker’s call to action is answered, Guam and the United States will join the global effort to save the seven million lives taken by the tobacco epidemic every year.

“When a product that is used exactly as directed kills more than 300 residents of Guam a year, know that we will use every tool at our disposal to save lives and keep this dangerous substance from robbing yet another person of a healthy life,” said Cruz.

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