May. 30 2014
Each year, the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day, observed on May 31, focuses global attention on the deadly toll of tobacco use and the need for countries to take strong action to address this entirely preventable epidemic. This year, we join the WHO and other public health organizations in calling on governments to raise taxes on tobacco products, which is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco use and save lives.
The evidence is clear: When tobacco prices go up, smoking and other tobacco use goes down, especially among vulnerable groups such as youth, pregnant women and low-income smokers. Even tobacco companies admit in their own internal documents that tobacco tax increases reduce tobacco use.
Globally, countries implementing tobacco tax increases are successfully driving down smoking rates. In 2010, Turkey enacted a significant increase in tobacco taxes, raising the price of cigarettes by 42 percent between 2008 and 2012. Following a sustained commitment by the Turkish government to implement the tax in the face of tobacco industry opposition, the smoking rate fell by 14.6 percent over the four-year period, with the largest decreases occurring among low-income populations. These findings are detailed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new report published in Morbidity and Mortality Monthly Report.
In 2012, despite significant opposition from the tobacco industry, the Philippines passed a landmark tobacco tax that has helped reduce cigarette sales by 14 percent, while increasing tobacco tax revenues by more than 118 percent. In Brazil, tobacco tax increases between 2006 and 2013 resulted in a 32 percent drop in cigarette sales, four million fewer people smoking and an increase in tax revenue.
Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death and claims about six million lives each year. More than 80 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, disproportionally affecting some of the world’s most vulnerable populations and creating costs many nations cannot afford.
The world’s first public health treaty – the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – provides nations with a powerful tool to reduce tobacco’s devastating toll. The treaty obligates nations to implement proven strategies to reduce tobacco use, including tobacco tax increases, 100 percent smoke-free laws, large, graphic health warnings and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Just a 10 percent increase in tobacco prices through tax increases would reduce the global number of smokers by 42 million and save 10 million lives around the world. Tobacco tax increases also directly benefit governments through increased revenues. Every government with an efficient tax system that has significantly increased its tobacco tax has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue, even while reducing smoking.
Countries have the tools to end the global tobacco epidemic, but progress requires swift and sustained action. This year’s World No Tobacco Day underscores the urgent need for governments to implement life-saving and cost-effective tobacco tax increases, identified by the WHO as a “best buy” in public health. Without urgent action, the tobacco epidemic will claim one billion lives this century.