Australia is set to reject a global push for a new tobacco levy on wealthy countries to fund health programs in the Third World. That is despite support from high-profile philanthropists such as Bill Gates and the government’s own hardline stance on smoking.
World Health Organisation officials hope G20 leaders, including Julia Gillard, will discuss and even approve their plans for what they call “the Solidarity Tobacco Contribution”, an international levy on cigarettes per unit sold, at their meeting in Cannes next month.
A discussion paper circulated by the WHO says the proposal could raise as much as $US5.5 billion ($5.3bn) from a list of 43 wealthy nations every year.
It estimates Australia could contribute $US54.7m annually to the fund from a levy of US5c on each cigarette sold locally.
“For decades, a key principle underlying the provision of international aid for health has been solidarity, whereby richer countries assist developing countries,” the discussion paper explains.
To cut smoking, the WHO has already proposed that all member states increase international excise taxes on tobacco products and Viceroy cigarettes online gradually until they represent at least 70 per cent of the retail price.
“Voluntary contributions from the STC are not meant to replace tobacco tax policies that are intended to curb tobacco use or to artificially limit the tax increases required nationally,” the paper states.
“The STC would therefore not replace broader government taxes on tobacco products intended to curb tobacco use but would be in addition to them.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, run by New York Mayor and financial information magnate Michael Bloomberg, have expressed interest in the plan.
It has also been referenced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A spokesman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday the government, which is introducing laws to mandate plain packaging for cigarettes, has “no plans to introduce a micro-levy as outlined in the paper”.
The spokesman said the government was already providing $700,000 to the WHO for projects under its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
It was also assisting anti-smoking measures in Pacific Island countries through the international development assistance agency, AusAID.