Cigarette prices jumped dramatically on Monday, just a day after the state-owned Egyptian Gazette published a presidential decree announcing a 50 percent tax increase.
This is the second such tax hike issued by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since he took office. Only seven months ago, a July 2 decree raised sales tax on cigarettes by 50 percent, tax on wine by 150 percent and tax on beer by 200 percent.
Sunday’s decree stated that imported cigarettes such as Marlboros, Merits, Kents, Dunhills, Davidoffs and Camilles would now cost LE23. However, several consumers in Cairo told Mada Masr that since Sunday night, they’ve been charged from LE25 up to LE26 for a pack of Malboros. Local cigarette brands like Cleopatra will remain relatively cheap, with the new prices ranging from LE9 to LE13.
The taxes were raised in order to help fuel the state’s budget, Cabinet spokesperson Hossam al-Qaweish told the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram. He claimed the additional LE5 billion to LE5.5 billion in revenues would bolster public spending on services such as health insurance and health care.
Though smokers might be aggrieved by the decision, Qaweish pointed out that Egyptian taxes on cigarettes and tobacco are still much lower than in many other countries.
The tax hikes are consistent with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention, Al-Ahram reported. The WHO encourages governments to leverage their taxes to discourage people from smoking, thereby mitigating several public health concerns.
However, concerned citizens argue that the tax increases will not decrease smoking in the population, but just make the cost of living more expensive for the average Egyptian.
“The cigarettes could cost LE40, and they would still buy them,” a kiosk owner in downtown Cairo, who wished to remain anonymous, told Mada Masr. “People say they will quit, but they don’t. In Egypt smoking is part of the street. For the sellers there is no problem, but for the people, of course there is a problem.”
One of his customers, who also asked to remain anonymous, told Mada he was furious that he didn’t find out about the price change in advance of its implementation.
“We arrive at the kiosk this morning, and the cigarettes are LE25! Of course we are angry,” he fumed.
“The new cigarette taxes are haram (sinful),” kiosk employee Khaled Ali told Mada. “Everyone smokes, and no one is going to quit.” Like his colleague, Ali doesn’t fear losing his customer base, but is outraged that everything in the country is growing more expensive.
“They [the government] are always doing this now, and the prices will keep going up,” said another kiosk worker located in Garden City.
He also asked to remain anonymous. When asked why, he explained laughingly, “The strongest thing in this country is the national security agency.”
Several other grieving smokers have taken to social media to voice their discontent.
“It’s true that cigarette prices are more expensive in richer countries, but raising the cigarette prices now will damage citizens more than raising the gas prices,” @aymanhaiba tweeted.
A comedy Facebook page called Tamt al-Targama posted a series of memes poking fun at the decision. One image titled “Cigarette prices go up by 50 percent” shows movie star Leonardo DiCaprio telling his friend that he’ll quit smoking, who responds, “Bravo! That’s a great step.” In the frame below, DiCaprio elucidates, “I’ll smoke hash, it’s cheaper.”
Another meme shows famed Egyptian actor Adel Imam asking another man, “Can I bum a cigarette?” The mustachioed man responds by yelling, “Get out of here! Go! Go!”
One image published in the privately owned news site Al-Arabeya shows a cigarette divided into seven portions — one for each day of the week.