Yushchenko accused of doing tobacco industry’s bidding.
Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko (left) shakes hands with a representative of international tobacco giant British American Tobacco during a Nov. 24 visit to the company’s production plant in Chernihiv Oblast’s Pryluky. The visit follows a controversial veto by Yushchenko of legislation that would have hiked the excise tax on discount cigarettes. Ukraine’s cigarettes are among the lowest taxed and cheapest in the world, contributing to a high rate of smoking and more than 100,000 smoking-related deaths each year. The Ukrainian leader praised BAT for their investment, tax contributions and transparent operations in Ukraine. Desperate to raise additional revenues for cash-strapped state coffers, the government led by Yushchenko’s rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has championed recent tax hikes on tobacco products. Yushchenko has defended his veto, insisting that further tax hikes could hurt tax receipts and stimulate a black-market trade. Public health activists disagree and are suspicious of Yushchenko’s chumminess with the influential tobacco industry. In Ukraine, tobacco manufacturers make tens of billions of cigarettes more annually than are consumed domestically. Many of these cheap cigarettes are smuggled illegally to other nations where prices are much higher. Anti-tobacco activists say that four steps are needed reverse Ukraine’s public health catastrophe: higher tobacco taxes, 100 percent indoor smoking bans, a complete ban on advertising and public education campaigns.
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