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Concern over tobacco trade

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Cigarettes at Queen Salote Wharf. Photo Leiola Group.

I am not sure if you are aware but these items recently entered the Queen Salote Wharf. The cigarettes were apparently ready for clearance by a local customs broker and were inspected by an MOH representative.

We are concerned at a few levels about illicit trade of cigarettes being imported into Tonga without health warnings and certificates of origin that verifies to a global standard of what is inside the cigarettes, in breach of current legislation.

We understand Customs have effectively stopped the importation, however as private sector representatives within the industry we wish to also voice our concerns.

In light of the current tobacco consultation process and discussed legislation, we trust these will be destroyed and severe penalties are handed to importers; in breach of the legislation.

  • We would like to congratulate the customs officials that seized these illegal products before they entered the market. This haul of illegal products would have resulted in a significant loss of revenue to the government.
  • This demonstrates that recent significant tax increases make Tonga an attractive destination for the international global trade in illicit tobacco.
  • When the government considers tax increases it needs to balance public health objectives with the risk of driving consumers to black market product, and needs to consult with all affected stakeholders when considering new measures.
  • With taxes increasing significantly across the region, it’s no surprise to see criminal gangs targeting the South Pacific including Tonga, Fiji and New the hope of entering the market.

Under current legislation there is clear regulation of what's required to conform to Tongan regulation on importing cigarettes. Large global organisations comply with these standards including the product labelling requirements of the Act and paying of excise taxes.

If the container was full, then there would be over 4 million sticks in total - worth approximately T$1,000,000 in excise tax (currently charged at T$250 per thousand sticks for imported cigarettes). This represents a significant amount of government revenue.

- John Paul Chapman


The Chapman family can't be trusted to inform the public debate about tobacco taxes and the illegal trade industry.

The Chapman family own Leiola Group Ltd. which profits from selling cigarettes to the public. Their main concern is not the well being of the Tongan people when they say no to taxing tobacco; it's the amount of money they will lose as a business. Not surprisingly, Ross Chapman has teamed up with British American Tobacco to petition the government and King against the tobacco taxes late last year. They're both in the same boat; both worried about their back pockets.

Let's leave the debate about taxing tobacco to those in the public that don't have a financial bias, to parliamentarians that represent the people, and to health experts who know that tobacco is the biggest cause of preventable death in Tonga (and NCDs).

In fact, you can apply the 'scream test'. If the tobacco industry and trade partners cry foul when changes that benefit the health of Tongans are proposed, or if they fear-monger about the black market etc, we know we're on the right track.

Tobacco taxes will, among other measures, prevent plenty of Tongans dying of awful cancers and diseases.