Governments around the world should increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products to save lives and generate funds for stronger health services, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
In a report entitled “The Global Tobacco Epidemic 2015”, the United Nations health agency said that too few governments make full use of tobacco taxes to dissuade people from smoking or help them to cut down and quit. It recommends that at least 75 percent of the price of a pack of cigarettes should be tax.
The WHO calculates that one person dies from tobacco-related disease every six seconds or so, equivalent to about 6 million people a year. The number is forecast to rise to more than 8 million people a year by 2030 unless strong measures are taken to control the what it calls a “tobacco epidemic”.
There are a billion smokers worldwide, but many countries have extremely low tobacco tax rates and some have no special tobacco taxes at all, the WHO said.
“Raising taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective and cost effective ways to reduce consumption of products that kill, while also generating substantial revenue,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in the report.
She urged all governments to look at the evidence and “adopt one of the best win-win policy options available for health”.
Tobacco is one of the four main risk factors behind non-communicable diseases — mostly cancers, cardiovascular and lung diseases and diabetes. In 2012 these diseases killed 16 million people under the age of 70, with more than 80 percent of those deaths in poor or middle-income countries.
Douglas Bettcher, a WHO expert on the prevention of non-communicable diseases, said that higher tobacco taxes have been proven to reduce consumption and help people to quit smoking.
“Evidence from countries such as China and France shows higher tobacco product prices linked to increased taxes lead to declines in smoking prevalence and tobacco-related harm,” he said.
Yet since 2008, when 22 countries had tobacco tax that accounted for more than 75 percent of the price of a packet of cigarettes, only 11 more countries have taken action to increase taxes to appropriate levels, the WHO said.