In the wake of a 47.38% increase in the special consumption tax (ÖTV) on alcohol levied by the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government in the new year, President of the Confederation of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen (TESK) Bendevi Palandöken is warning that this could lead to deaths from illegally produced alcohol.
In 2002, at the beginning of its tenure, the AKP introduced a “special consumption tax” (ÖTV) on alcohol and tobacco products in the name of benefitting public health. In two decades of AKP, the tax has been increased several hundredfolds. Rakı, a traditional anise seed liquor in Turkey, has seen a tax increase of over 1,800%. After holding tax rates steady in the second half of 2021, this week the government announced that the ÖTV would be drastically increased in the new year.
Amidst skyrocketing inflation, increases in the cost of living, and widespread unemployment and poverty, TESK President Palandöken is warning that many people in the country could turn to moonshine to become intoxicated. Not only would the state lose out on tax income from this illegal alcohol, he said, but also its unregulated nature could lead to poisoning and death.
“Increasing prices will not prevent the use of cigarettes and alcohol. The hikes will only increase smuggling and tax losses. The increase in bootlegging also indicates that deaths from alcohol will increase even more,” he was quoted as saying by ANKA news agency on Jan. 6.
He further argues that these hikes will achieve precisely the opposite of what the government wants to achieve. Without proper education and awareness, Turkish citizens will not stop smoking or drinking, rather, they will just do so with intoxicants made from substances like methyl alcohol. Further, he said that the state already experiences annual losses from black market and bootlegged cigarettes and alcohol - this will only increase, he said, with increased taxes.
“This disproportionate increase in cigarettes and alcohol over inflation should be abandoned so that tradesmen are not adversely affected, citizens do not turn to bootleggers, and our state does not experience tax losses,” Palandöken said, “The state already has an average annual loss of 6-7 billion liras in indirect tax revenues, 2-3 billion from alcohol and 3-4 billion from cigarettes.”