The Revenue Stamps of Mauritius

by John Wilson

Tobacco Duty Labels

This is the last section in the book, and deals with the most recent revenue stamp tax to be imposed. Tobacco was introduced to the island as long ago as 1639 when the Dutch were in occupation. It never became a really significant part of industry in Mauritius, compared with tourism, sugar and financial services, largely because the quality of the product was not sufficiently high to develop a competitive export trade. Superior leaf was produced fairly nearby in the Cape Province, and production ceased in Mauritius on the departure of the Dutch in 1710. There is no further record of tobacco grown on the island until the British arrived in 1810. Even this became unsuccessful because of the high tax on producers' land used for the crop. The authorities had not yet woken up to the fact that it was the consumer that needed to be taxed rather than the producer!

When large-scale Indian immigration started in the nineteenth century, the tobacco industry was again regenerated. By 1927, about 2,000 acres of the product were under cultivation. At the time, sugar prices were low, and Government revenue from that source diminished. An excise tax of one Rupee per kilo of manufacture tobacco was introduced.

British-American Tobacco Ltd (BAT) came to Mauritius in 1926, almost coinciding with the excise duty mentioned above. The presence of the company had a considerable impact on the market, as it produced seven of the highest sales brands around. So much was being grown on the island that production was exceeding consumption: no exporting could take place because, despite various improvements to quality, it was still not possible to compete with other areas.

Activities were controlled by a Mauritius Tobacco Board which monitored production and marketing among other things. The modus operandi of the board changed many times over the years. By 2001, BAT had 98.9% of the market, and quality tobacco was being imported. Taxes had rocketed by that time, although no tobacco duty labels had been introduced. Taxes levied were:-

Excise (domestic) 210% at ex-factory level
Excise (imported) 360%
Sales Tax  12% at wholesale level
Import Duty 80%

Even after these swingeing impositions, the average price of a pack of twenty cigarettes was at that time 45 Rupees or US$1.54 - still relatively cheap considering the above percentages.

The "holiday" from tobacco duty labels or, as they are known in Mauritius, excise stamps on cigarette packets, came to an end on sales after 1 December 2008. It is interesting to note that duty only applies to cigarettes, and not to pipe and cigarette tobacco or cigars as is evidenced by the communique from the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) dated 7 April 2009, a copy of which is shown on Plate 97. This document provides for a period of time after 1 December 2008 to market unstamped cigarette packets which expired on 30 April 2009. The levy was 25 cents on a pack of twenty, and I do not believe it has increased since then.

After 30 April, with certain limited exceptions, severe penalties exist for not conforming to the law. These labels can be recognised from the following conditions:-

Plate 98

Plate 98 (click to enlarge)

Plate 98 contains the illustration of the label being presently used, together with an enlarged version. These labels are attached to the pack, and then covered by a cellophane wrapper in order to protect against accidental damage or removal.