Guide Step 5

24 Jun 2013

Getting there: A step-by-step guide to asking for a tax or price target

5. Who to approach first and what to say

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As mentioned above, your selected first contact will depend on your budget system and cycle. In some systems, finance ministry officials may have a great deal of influence; in others key legislators may be important first contacts. In some countries, the budget process may be somewhat elaborate, involving government planning institutions, various ministries for different components and, ultimately, approval by legislators.

Undoubtedly, it won’t hurt to cultivate relationships with all of the above, but you still need to narrow down who is the best person/institution to start with.

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You may want to consider using an intermediary to set up the first meeting for you. For example, if you have government contacts that have good relations with and contacts for key budget and finance ministry officials, you might want to ask them to introduce you. On the other hand, this might be a very bad idea if your government contacts have no knowledge of finance ministry officials or, worse, have uneasy relationships with them. Do your homework before deciding on this approach.

Whoever you approach, keep in mind that finance ministry officials and legislators may not be aware of the FCTC, much less of Article 6 guiding principles and recommendations. They will probably check with their colleagues in health or foreign affairs as to the exact status of the COP5 decision on Article 6. Therefore, no matter what the relationship between different ministries, it would be useful to alert any friendly health ministry and foreign affairs contacts of your intent to begin a dialogue with finance officials before this occurs.

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The general rules that apply to advocacy on any other tobacco control issue also apply to advocacy on taxes and tax targets: What you say will vary according to who you’re talking to, how well you know them, when you’re talking to them, and what the political context is at any given time.

For example, your message may depend on the general attitude of the government toward taxes, and whether there is a need for funding of preventive or primary public health services, or for other popular programmes such as sports or child nutrition.

The main difference with tax advocacy is that you will often be talking to people you don’t know, in a ministry or agency that you don’t fully understand, about an issue that you might not yet feel comfortable with.

But with the information in this toolkit, you will likely walk into the room knowing far more than that person you are talking to. Here are some possible approaches, depending on how well you know the officials you are briefing and your evaluation of the political context.

Go on a fact-finding mission

This is often the easiest way to make a “cold call”. Ask whether your country has an explicit tobacco tax policy and/or a tax target already, and if not, what the process will be to develop one. While you’re at it, ask about the budget cycle in general so you can get a better understanding of timing and who the key players are that you might want to talk to.

Always assume that the person you are talking to knows little or nothing about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control or tobacco taxes. As discussed above, you should come prepared with a copy of the Article 6 guidelines, highlighting the reference to targets, as well your information package. This package should include a short document outlining possible types of targets.

Make sure to emphasize the interest of your organization in participating in the ongoing process of developing long-term policy and targets, and the expertise you can offer along the way. (Offer expertise even if you don’t feel you have it. Expertise can be brought in when needed.)

Propose a particular type and/or level of target, and perhaps even a time frame to announce it

This may be particularly useful if you are talking to an elected official rather than a civil servant. For this, you will need to have completed your homework in considering what types of targets would be most beneficial for public health, and will need to feel comfortable in pitching the proposal with supporting arguments. It will also help if you can bring the names of influential civil society groups or other institutions which would publicly support and congratulate the politician if they were to announce such targets.

Combine your proposal for a particular tax target with a pitch for an immediate and substantial tax increase

Like the previous option, this will require adequate preparation, for example familiarizing yourself with the existing tax system and calculating the revenue and consumption impact of the tax increase you are proposing. If needed, ask for assistance from international experts, to which the FCA can refer you.

Whatever approach you choose, remember that you should not prepare a monologue — it will be at least as important to LISTEN and ASK QUESTIONS as well it is to talk. You will learn useful information to move forward with future contacts.

A key goal for your first meeting is to try to figure out the motivations of the officials you are talking to. A politician may want a good political “announce-able”, such as firm action to reduce youth smoking, in which case you could emphasize how strong the evidence is for higher taxes lowering youth uptake, and talk about the media work you will do in support of any positive announcement. A civil servant may be much more interested in recurring and dependable increases in revenues, in which case further evidence from other countries that have already increased taxes might be very useful.

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How you “get in the door” to make any of the above proposals is discussed next.

Back to Step 4: Gather basic information about the budget development process in your country

Proceed to Step 6: Getting in the door to see the contact person(s) you have selected  

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