Lawmakers on Thursday passed government-drafted amendments to the sales tax law by tripling tobacco tax in an urgent procedure without lawmakers’ usual committee-level discussion as is customary for government-drafted bills.
Meanwhile, chief executive Fernando Chui Sai On signed an order on Thursday according to which from Tuesday each person is permitted to bring in only 19 cigarettes per day, or one cigar, or 25 grammes of tobacco products, duty free when they enter Macau, according to a statement released by Chui’s office.
Government representatives including Secretary for Economy and Finance Lionel Leong Vai Tac and Health Bureau Director Lei Chin Ion attended Thursday’s meeting in the legislature’s hemicycle to introduce the tobacco tax bill.
Addressing the meeting, Leong said that in order to help people quit smoking and better prevent youths from taking up the habit, the government proposed to increase the tobacco tax from its original 0.50 patacas to 1.50 patacas per cigarette, an increase of 200 percent, adding that after the increase, the tobacco tax would account for 70 percent of the retail price of a packet of cigarettes, which would be in line with a suggestion by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A total of 28 lawmakers cast their votes on the bill with 26 supporting the bill and two voting against it. The legislature has 33 members.
Government-appointed lawmaker Fong Chi Keong and indirectly-elected lawmaker Kou Hoi In were the two who voted against the bill, both raising concerns about the possibility of tobacco sellers losing their source of income after the tax hike.
Fong accused the government for discriminating against smokers, violating their freedom to smoke. He argued that there are benefits in smoking too, pointing out that it could be used as stress relief.
Kou also doubted the effect of the hike, as people could simply buy cigarettes from neighbouring regions.
Responding to the lawmakers’ remarks opposing the bill, Lei said the he believed the increase in the tobacco tax would be the most effective way to prevent teenagers from smoking.
Currently, the number of duty-free cigarettes that each person can bring into Macau is 100 cigarettes per day, or 10 cigars, or 100 grammes of tobacco products. (macaunews/macaupost)