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The price of vice increases in Venezuela


Written on 7:58 PM by yahoo

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- The price of sin rose Monday in Venezuela where President Hugo Chavez is on a campaign to make Venezuelans cut back on drinking and smoking.

A man buys beer at an outdoor bar at a Caracas auto show October 7.

"Everyone's shocked," said Leonora Marino, owner of Bodegon Marino in Valencia, Venezuela, west of Caracas.

On Monday evening, she was still changing the prices in her store as her customers looked on and complained, she told a reporter.

Alcohol is now 10 percent more expensive; cigarettes are 20 percent pricier.

"Really, it's difficult to buy at these prices," she said, then joked, "They say they're going to stop eating so that they can continue drinking."

The Venezuelan government is placing a higher tax on alcohol and cigarettes in an effort to cut consumption and prevent what it views as the social, economic and moral consequences of drinking and smoking, said Jose Vielma Mora, superintendent of Seniat, the government body that oversees the collection of taxes.

Taxes on whiskey, brandy, cognac and other drinks that don't come from cane sugar have been raised $1.79 (3,838 bolivares) per liter, the government-run Bolivarian News Agency said.

"It's unfair because, in the end, the consumer is the one who pays," said Fernando Fernandez, a liquor exporter.

Chavez has described whisky as a drink for rich people, not for revolutionaries.

"We cannot be spending the international reserves of this country on whiskey," he said.

The moves represent the first steps toward transforming each Venezuelan into what Chavez calls "the new man." Chavez has cited the life of revolutionary socialist icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara as an example of how to lead a more pure life.

In April, Chavez told a graduating class of medical students in Caracas, Venezuela, that the level of consumption of alcohol in the country represents a threat to public health and ought to make residents feel ashamed, according to an ABN report.

"The vice causes much harm, not only to individuals, but to the collective health of the nation," said Chavez, who said the dangers result in an increase in car wrecks and domestic violence.

For his part, he has said he drinks too much coffee.

Also effective Monday, stores near schools, churches or cultural centers will not be granted licenses to sell alcohol.

Taxes on cigarette imports have also increased, from 50 percent to 70 percent of the total price.

On the street, some people said they don't understand the motivations for the increase, but predicted their consumption would not change.

"The Venezuelan is not going to stop drinking or smoking," said one person.

Chavez also plans to increase taxes on luxury items such as Hummers, which are imported privately and at great expense. There is no Hummer dealership in the country.

Higher oil prices in recent years have translated into higher consumption in petroleum-rich Venezuela. Last year, car sales increased by about 70 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

But Chavez, who was in Cuba Monday visiting communist leader Fidel Castro, said he wants to focus less on material goals for Venezuela's 27 million people, 38 percent of whom live in poverty

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