The Ethiopian Parliament has passed landmark legislation with the aim of curbing smoking in the country, according to the World Health Organisation.
WHO Africa said this in a statement issued in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Tuesday.
As a result of the legislation, Ethiopia has now introduced a mixed-excise system on cigarettes in line with the recommendations of WHO.
This involves a 30 per cent tax rate of the cost of producing cigarettes, in addition to a specific excise rate of eight Ethiopian Birr (0.25 U.S .dollars) on each individual packet.
The passing of the legislation demonstrates the commitment of the Government of Ethiopia to addressing one of the leading causes of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic obstructive lung disease.
A considerable number of Ethiopians are at risk, the most recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey estimates the number of smokers in Ethiopia to be around 2.5 million people.
“Cancer and other non-communicable diseases are on the rise in Africa; this ground-breaking new law will significantly reduce cigarette smoking among Ethiopians and save lives.
“It is a powerful example of how the government, civil society and WHO can work together to enact meaningful change,’’ said Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, WHO Representative for Ethiopia.
WHO had estimated that the tax increase would reduce the rate of cigarette smoking among adults by as much as 10 per cent, and reduce the number of deaths attributable to smoking by around 91,000 people.
The increased tax on cigarettes will also increase cigarette tax revenues by as much as 81 per cent, meaning an additional Ethiopian Birr (ETB) 925 million (28.7 million dollars) that can be spent on public health or education programmes.
Prior to the approval of this bill, cigarettes in Ethiopia were among the cheapest in the world, even in comparison to other African countries.
The share of total tax on the retail price of cigarettes was also very low in Ethiopia, averaging 33 per cent in recent estimates, compared to the global average of 61 per cent.
WHO estimated that this legislation will increase the tax share of the average retail price of cigarettes to around 54 per cent.
Smoking poses serious health and economic challenges for Ethiopia.
The annual economic costs of smoking in Ethiopia are estimated to be around 1,391 million Ethiopian Birr, or 43.6 million dollars, according to the most recent edition of the Tobacco Atlas.
Buying tobacco also denies families the resources they need to rise out of poverty.
A smoker in Ethiopia would have to spend 11.70 per cent of their average income (measured by per capita GDP) to purchase 10 of the most popular brand of cigarettes to smoke daily each year.
Passing this legislation was the result of coordinated advocacy by WHO that involved engaging civil society groups, the media, medical and professional associations, and government partners.