A report released by the World Health Organization concludes that tax and price measures are the “least-achieved” of a global menu of regulations to combat the growing tobacco epidemic, in spite of overwhelming evidence that higher tobacco taxes are the most effective means to lower tobacco consumption and deter children from taking up the habit.
The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic tracks global progress of the world’s first public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Without strong action, tobacco is expected to take 1 billion lives this century, 10 times the toll of the 20th century. In response, the FCTC came into force in 2005, and has been joined by 176 countries, representing nearly 90% of the world’s population. The U.S. has signed but not ratified the FCTC.
“The first phase of a global response to the tobacco epidemic has been a success,” said Laurent Huber, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-tobacco organization founded in 1967. “The FCTC is one of the most rapidly-embraced treaties in history. Now we must work to implement it.”
The WHO report focuses on six key aspects of the FCTC, and notes important progress among some countries. However, very few nations have fully embraced all of the measures necessary to stem the tide of the tobacco epidemic, which currently kills 6 million people per year and is increasing rapidly in the developing world.
“Taxation is the single most effective way to curb tobacco use,” said Huber. “The tobacco industry has been successful in claiming that increasing taxes will bring economic chaos to national treasuries, in spite of the fact that there is a long track record demonstrating that increased taxes always lead to increased government revenue.”
Tobacco taxes make it more difficult for children to get cigarettes, cause smokers to decrease consumption, and inspire many to quit for good. New taxes can further benefit public health if some of the additional funds are used for tobacco control education, enforcement and other measures. Studies have shown that a 10% increase in cigarette taxes leads to a 4% reduction in consumption, and a 7% reduction among children, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
In the U.S., tobacco taxes have helped lead to dramatic declines in cigarette smoking; in some states, the percentage of smokers was cut by more than half. Financially, tobacco use still costs the U.S. nearly $200 billion a year in health and other direct costs.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)