Study: Tripling Tobacco Taxes Could Prevent 200m Premature Deaths

Tripling tobacco tax globally would prevent 200 million premature deaths this century from lung cancer and other diseases, researchers say.

AsianScientist (Jan. 8, 2014) – Tripling tobacco tax globally would cut smoking by a third and prevent 200 million premature deaths this century from lung cancer and other diseases, says a Cancer Research UK review published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to the study, boosting the tax by a large fixed amount per cigarette would narrow the price gap between the most and least expensive cigarettes. The tax hike may encourage people to quit smoking altogether rather than switch to a cheaper brand, or stop young people from starting the habit.

“The international tobacco industry makes about £30 billion ($50 billion) in profits each year – that’s a profit of approximately £6,000 ($10,000) per death from smoking,” said Professor Sir Richard Peto, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist based at the University of Oxford.

The tax increase would be especially effective in low-to-middle-income countries where the cheapest cigarettes are relatively affordable, the study says. But it would also be effective in richer countries: France halved cigarette consumption from 1990 to 2005 by raising taxes well above inflation.

“The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths. It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there’s still time,” said study co-author Professor Peto.

“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. 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.”

About 1.3 billion people smoke, most in low and middle-income countries. 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.

Smoking causes about 12 to 25 percent of all deaths in middle-aged men in China, India, Bangladesh and South Africa, and these proportions are set to rise as successive generations in which few people have smoked throughout adult life are being replaced by generations in which many people have smoked throughout adult life.

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 £180 billion (US$300 billion) a year now to £240 billion (US$400 billion) a year – income which could be spent on better healthcare.

“Worldwide, around half a billion children and adults under the age of 35 are already – or soon will be – smokers, and many will be hooked on tobacco for life. So there’s an urgent need for governments to find ways to stop people starting and to help smokers give up,” said Dr. Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

The article can be found at: Jha P et al. (2014) Global Effects of Smoking, of Quitting, and of Taxing Tobacco.


Source: University of Oxford; Photo: MilitaryHealth/Flickr/CC.
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