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WHO: Raising Taxes on Tobacco Can Save Lives

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A woman smokes a cigarette.

FILE - A woman smokes a cigarette.

The World Health Organization is calling for governments to raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. A new WHO report presents strong evidence that increasing taxes is one of the best ways to help curb the global tobacco epidemic.

The World Health Organization says raising taxes on tobacco makes the products less affordable. It says this is one of the most effective, low-cost ways to stop people from smoking. It notes this measure has the added benefit of boosting the tax revenues of national coffers.

WHO Department for the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases Director Douglas Bettcher considers this a win-win policy.

“Some economists early this year in a Copenhagen consensus referred to it as a phenomenal best buy. Not only a best buy, phenomenal best buy because it is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the consumption and prevalence of tobacco and therefore to save lives,” said Bettcher.

Bettcher said evidence from countries such as China and France shows higher prices on tobacco products led to declines in smoking prevalence and tobacco-related deaths from illnesses, such as lung cancer.

Data from Turkey, a middle-income country, finds a 13 percent reduction in smoking prevalence between 2009 and 2014 following a 50 percent increase in tobacco taxes.

Despite such progress, the WHO reports taxation is the least implemented tobacco control measure around the world. It says only 33 countries impose taxes of more than 75 percent of the retail price of a packet of cigarettes.

Bettcher blames this on what he calls devious tactics by the tobacco industry.

“The most common myth the tobacco industry promotes is that increase in tobacco taxation will lead to an increase in illicit trade in tobacco products. This has been disproven... Furthermore, illicit trade in tobacco products itself ought to be tackled. Illicit trade fuels corruption and circulation of illicit products, as well as reducing revenue for governments,” he said.

The World Health Organization reports around six million people, most in developing countries, die prematurely from tobacco related illnesses each year. This is more than all deaths from HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The U.N. health agency predicts the number of tobacco-linked deaths will rise to more than eight million people a year by 2030 unless strong measures are taken to control the epidemic.

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