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Turkey: tax equalisation thwarts roll-your-own dodge

Turkey, where a tobacco company recently introduced roll-your-own (RYO) cigarette kits, has taken the only sensible step open to a responsible government faced with such an attempt to hold onto smokers through exploiting tax differentials to reduce the price of smoking materials. It has simply equalised tobacco tax across all types of tobacco. European Tobacco, a Turkish tobacco company based in Mersin, in the south of the country, recently introduced a range of components, including a small hand-operated device, empty paper tubes and loose tobacco, for smokers to make cigarettes that can closely resemble those made in a factory. The attraction is that they cost much less due to the tax on loose tobacco previously being only about half of that on manufactured cigarettes.

The Turkish move came after a team from WHO met officials from Turkey's ministries of health and finance, together with the head of the country's parliamentary health commission.

A device similar to Mersin's was introduced by Imperial Tobacco in the UK in April 2011 (see July 2011 issue).1 A more elaborate system to exploit a similar tax differential appeared a few months later in Jamaica, involving electrically powered machines operated by smokers themselves in convenience stores and other shops where the machines are installed (see November 2011 issue).2 So far, however, neither the British nor the Jamaican government has announced any adjustments to tobacco taxes to close off the price advantages of the products.

The Turkish and British machines require a measure of work by their users, as well as possibly delivering finished products that may feel inferior to regular factory-made cigarettes. Thus, their sales potential may be limited, though diseases contracted by people …

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