Tripling tobacco taxes could save up to 200 million lives, according to new research published January 1 in the New England Journal of Medicine
"The international tobacco industry makes about $50 billion in profits each year – that’s a profit of approximately $10,000 per death from smoking," said Richard Peto an epidemiologist at Cancer Research UK
and co-author of the study.
Raising the tax, the study said, would lower the price gap between the most and least expensive brands, which would lead to more people quitting smoking rather than just moving to a cheaper brand. Higher prices could also discourage young people from taking up smoking.
The effects of higher taxes would be felt especially in low-to-middle-income countries where the cheapest cigarettes are relatively affordable. It would also be effective in richer countries. For example, France halved cigarette consumption from 1990 to 2005 by raising taxes well above inflation, according to the study.
The research points to numerous studies which found that a 50 percent higher inflation-adjusted price for cigarettes reduces consumption by about 20 percent, with stronger reductions among the young and among the poor.
“Globally, about half of all young men and one in ten of all young women become smokers, and, particularly in developing countries, relatively few quit,” said Peto. “If they keep smoking, about half will be killed by it, but if they stop before 40, they’ll reduce their risk of dying from tobacco by 90 percent.”
Smoking is the largest cause of premature death from chronic disease, according to the study, and in 2013 the World Health Assembly called governments to reduce smoking by a third by 2025.
The study said that tripling tobacco taxes would decrease worldwide consumption by about a third, but despite this it would also increase government revenues from tobacco by a third, from $300 billion a year now to $400 billion a year – income which could be spent on better health care.
About 1.3 billion people smoke, most in low and middle-income countries, according to the study.
Furthermore, the study said two-thirds of all smokers are, in descending number of smokers, in China, India, the EU, Indonesia, the United States, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh and Pakistan. China consumes over two trillion cigarettes a year, out of a world total of six trillion, the research states.