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Call for increase in alcohol, tobacco taxes

Michael Weeks

Alcohol and tobacco taxes should be increased to fund rehabilitation work in Bermuda, according to the Shadow Minister of Community, Culture and Sports.

Michael Weeks, MP for Pembroke East Central, made the statement after Hamilton-based addiction charity Focus announced it may close due to a lack of financial support.

Earlier this week, Sandy Butterfield, who co-founded Focus in 1993, revealed that the organisation needed $450,000 a year to stay active.

“With funding drying up, the Government can place a direct tax on items like tobacco and alcohol, and the resulting profits could go to drug and alcohol rehabilitation,” Mr Weeks said, adding that all drug-related proceeds of crime should also be funnelled into such programmes.

The Opposition MP said that, should Focus shut its doors, the immediate and long-term effects on the community would be “almost impossible to calculate”.

“I am certain that homelessness and crime would definitely increase, as many recovering addicts would have literally no place to go,” he said.

Mr Weeks also suggested that the Bermuda Government alter its approach to addicts by concentrating more on preventative than punitive measures.

“I understand the financial crisis that this country is in, but money is going into incarceration and policing rather than rehabilitation and prevention,” he said.

“Statistics show that many crimes are drug- or alcohol-related, directly or indirectly, so we must not cut or cease to fund crucial agencies.”

With Focus potentially closing in as little as two months, Mr Weeks called for politicians and the public to “pull together and address this dire issue”.

“Focus is a vital resource on this island, and it must remain open for the good of our country and its citizens,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of National Security said that the Government was “committed to working with Focus to devise a sustainable model for their operations”.

“Their work is critical to achieving change in the lives of those impacted by alcohol and drugs,” added the spokesperson.

For details on how you can help Focus, call Sandy Butterfield on 532-1292 or visit www.focus.bm.