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May 29, 2014

Taxes Provide Best Incentive to Stop Smoking

by Carol Pearson

A lot of smokers start using cigarettes when they are teenagers, only to find later on that they can't kick the habit.  It's a huge public health concern. As a result, researchers the world over, in government and in private institutions, are working on ways to help people stop smoking.  

In Joanna Cohen's office at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Global Tobacco Control, cigarettes come in all types of packages....some are gruesome, while others are beautiful.

With advertising restrictions in so many countries, cigarette companies are using the packages as advertising tools.  Governments use them to discourage smoking.  Researchers like Cohen say taxes are the best incentive in cutting back on smoking.

"Taxes are a win-win situation. Smokers smoke less and governments increase their revenue so taxes are our most effective strategy and a win-win proposition," said Cohen.

The World Health Organization is urging governments to increase taxes on tobacco products.

The WHO says higher taxes are especially effective in reducing tobacco use among lower income groups and in preventing young people from starting.

The organization says a 10 percent tax increase reduces tobacco use by 4 percent in high income countries, and by up to 8 percent in most low- and middle income countries.

Statistics show there are a billion smokers in the world, almost one out of five people. Tobacco kills up to half of its users.

Some people say if tobacco were banned, they wouldn't smoke at all.

"I’ve been a smoker for 38 years.  It’s something that’s so hard for me to stop on my own," said a smoker.

Others say they are so addicted they have to smoke, even if they know the health risks.

"One of the worst addictions in the world is cigarette smoking. Inside my heart, something’s telling me to quit.  It’s not the right thing to do to my body and the ones around me," said another.

Joanna Cohen says governments also have to introduce more strategies so those trying to stop can be more successful.

"Seventy percent of smokers say they want to quit. We just need to figure out stategies to help support people in quitting in terms of reducing cues, making the product more inaccessible, harder to get, more expensive and less advertising, less promotion, those sorts of things," she said.

Public health experts expect deaths from tobacco use to increase in the years to come, especially in low- and middle income countries, where most of the burden of tobacco-related disease is expected to occur.

These experts are hopeful, however, that as proven strategies to prevent smoking are introduced, fewer people will take up the habit.