24 Jun 2013
Getting there: A step-by-step guide to asking for a tax or price target
8. Keep pushing, and look for allies
You will know from your advocacy experience that it can take months or even years to move governments. The idea of a tobacco tax target, and of tobacco tax increases, is inherently a good one that can simultaneously benefit public health and the public treasury. But sometimes government systems fail to implement obviously good ideas unless more public pressure is applied, particularly if the tobacco industry has convinced some in the system that tobacco taxes aren’t a good idea.
One way to increase the pressure, if you haven’t done it already, is to sign up other prestigious health organizations to support your push for a tax target. A memo from your national medical association, for example, may have far more impact than a well-documented brief from a tobacco control NGO, even if the basic arguments are the same.
Perhaps even more importantly on the tax issue, actively look for less conventional alliances. Some possibilities are:
- Good governance organizations, such as Transparency International or similar local anti-corruption groups to support you on illicit trade controls
- Any worthy cause that needs more government money, such as amateur sport, expansion of primary health care, child benefit services. You are proposing something that will increase revenues — maybe you can convince others to join your call for higher tobacco taxes. Even if this tax revenue is not ultimately dedicated to a particular issue, it will still add to general revenue and increase the government’s spending flexibility. For example, if the national nurses’ union is complaining of low pay (and is generally popular with the public), it might be willing to propose raising tobacco taxes in order to pay for increased wages, without increasing the government’s deficit. (You would need to do the math to check that this is credible.)
- University economics departments. You may be lucky to find an academic that is familiar with tax policy and interested in tobacco tax issues. They may not be able to do a lot of work on the subject, but might be willing to accompany you to meetings and add credibility to your arguments. Also, they may have graduate students who are looking for interesting research projects, who might be able to do some analytical work under the guidance of their professor.