Push for higher tobacco taxes in West Africa

May 05, 2016
Robert Geneau

For the tobacco industry, West Africa is a lucrative market. Although detrimental to health, tobacco consumption is on the rise, particularly among young people. Stringent tax policies on tobacco products are a proven strategy to counter tobacco use at the national, regional, and global levels.

In light of the foregoing, the Consortium pour la recherche économique et sociale (CRES) organized a workshop in February 2014 in Côte d’Ivoire. The one-day meeting brought together parliamentarians from 14 of the 15countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which adopted the Abidjan Declaration, requesting the two regional bodies, ECOWAS and the Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA), to review the current guidelines on tobacco taxes.

Currently, the ECOWAS Directive provides for a minimum of 15% excise duty and a maximum of 100%. For UEMOA countries (Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea Bissau, Niger, and Togo), which are also part of ECOWAS, there is no minimum excise duty rate, while the maximum rate is 45%. Apart from Gambia, the other 14 ECOWAS countries rely solely on ad valorem excise duty (ex-factory price for local products and import values for other products). With 14 countries dependent on ad valorem excise duty, ECOWAS is clearly not embracing international best practices on tobacco taxation.

Since 2011, CRES has been conducting research to improve fiscal policies on tobacco products within ECOWAS and UEMOA through the adoption of a new directive on tobacco taxes, drawing from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. CRES has used local and international evidence to argue for hybrid excise duty comprising an ad valorem tax and a specific tax to be regularly adjusted based on inflation. 

If the new directive is adopted, it is then expected that the price of tobacco products in the 15 ECOWAS countries would increase every year. This would result in a decline in tobacco consumption in the region and, in turn, to substantial health gains and lower health care costs, not to mention increased tax revenues.