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MP fumes over cigarette factory

Friday 22 July 2016 | Published in Regional

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SAMOA – There has been heavy criticism in Samoa of a government decision to issue a second cigarette manufacturing licence to a foreign-owned company in Apia.

The opposition Tautua Samoa Party has blasted the government’s decision with veteran MP Aeau Peniamina Leavaiseeta saying it was a sad decision which would have a negative impact on public health.

Aeau said the government would regret its decision.

“It’s a sad story,” Aeau told the Samoa Observer.

“Especially at a time where they had recently done promotion on fighting against tobacco use but now they have agreed to set up a factory to manufacture cigarette locally.

“It’s really sad if this is the kind of development that the government is looking at when these things affect the lives of our people in the long run.”

Aeau said that instead of leading by example the government “has totally ignored what is good for our people”.

“It’s not a pathway our people should follow. The government has been preaching about bringing in doctors to deal with our NCDs and cancer yet they don’t walk what they preach.

“My disappointment is the government eyeing revenue and neglecting healthy lifestyles.”

Last week, the Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell dismissed claims that the factory contradicted the government’s push for healthier lifestyles.

“In any country where there is a tobacco company, there is always this argument about the risks of smoking. The reality is that anyone who smokes a cigarette – whether it’s manufactured here or not – they will go out to find it and buy it. It comes down to a personal choice.”

According to Lautafi, the decision to approve the license for a second cigarette company was made based on a revenue perspective.

“The government gets revenue from it and also from excise tax,” he said.

In Parliament last month, Aeau said he was “over the moon” when government announced an excise tax on tobacco.

“It was beautiful to hear this for the sake of our people and their health,” he recalled.

“But what’s happening now? They are not walking the talk. They are ignoring the long term effects of a tobacco factory in our people.”

“Never mind the employment provided by the company,” he said. “It would probably employ less than 50 people but how about the health of the whole nation that will be affected?

“Even our young children are exposed to smoking and already the future doesn’t look healthy.”

The tobacco factory is owned by a Chinese businessman.

“With due respect to the Asians,” Aeau said. “Anything they make is cheap. They make it cheap in order for everyone to be able to afford it,” he said.

“And if it’s affordable, everyone will start smoking or continue on to smoke. To me, the government is more concerned about money than the long term effect of the factory on our people.”

He added that an investment in a different kind of business would have been better.

However, the Minister Lautafi maintained that the decision to increase taxes on cigarettes and other unhealthy products was made for the right reasons.”

Another benefit the minister pointed to is the company’s plan to use locally grown tobacco, known as tapa’a plant, to make the product.

He said the locals who harvest the plant could sell their crops to the company.

“That is what we want to encourage,” said Lautafi. “We want our local materials to be utilised instead of setting up an office here and bringing in things from elsewhere.”

- Samoa Observer