New WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic should spur governments to action

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 07, 2015

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Washington, D.C. — A report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) is a resounding call for governments to take action to reduce tobacco use by implementing proven policies to reduce tobacco use, the world’s leading cause of preventable death. According to the report, raising tobacco taxes is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use and save lives and is cost-effective for governments to implement.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2015 also finds that despite the positive health impacts of increased tobacco taxes, many countries have very low tax rates and some countries do not levy tobacco taxes at all.

Data shows that tobacco taxes of at least 75 percent of the retail price are the most effective at saving lives from tobacco use while being relatively inexpensive for governments to implement and even generating revenue for public coffers. According to the report, tax increases in Brazil account for nearly half of the 46 percent reduction in tobacco use between 1989 and 2010.

But increasing tobacco taxes is one of the least-implemented tobacco control policies recommended by the WHO, with only 10 percent of the world’s people living in countries with sufficient tobacco taxes. Among the policies discussed in the report, raising tobacco taxes is the measure that has seen the least improvement since WHO began assessing progress.

Raising tobacco taxes is a win-win solution for governments because it increases revenues while reducing consumption and saving lives, especially among the young and poor in low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – the world’s first international treaty addressing a public health issue – legally obligates countries ratifying it to implement a set of policies proven to reduce tobacco use. Some 180 countries have ratified the treaty, obligating them to implement interventions such as 100 percent smoke-free indoor public places; total bans on tobacco advertising; large, graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging; and increased tobacco taxes.

Today’s report – funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies – highlights extraordinary progress in implementing the FCTC provisions in the 10 years since the treaty came into force. The report shows that over these 10 years:

  • the global population covered by at least one effective tobacco control measure has nearly tripled, from 1 billion to 2.8 billion – a quarter of the world’s population;

  • 49 countries have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws, protecting approximately 1.3 billion people;

  • 42 countries have implemented strong graphic warning labels, covering almost 20% of the world’s population;

  • 29 countries have completely banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

This impressive progress represents lives saved from tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and lung disease, but more must be done.

Countries must resolve to stand up to the tobacco industry by passing and implementing increasingly strong measures to reduce tobacco use and its horrible toll. Increasing tobacco taxes is particularly effective at reducing tobacco use and saving lives, but is also the policy with the most room for improvement according to the WHO.

Tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century, and will kill one billion people in the 21st century if current trends are not reversed. The WHO report makes clear that countries must resolve to build on the promise of the past 10 years of the FCTC by doing even more to pass and implement proven tobacco control policies, especially increasing tobacco tax.