In a review in the New England Journal of Medicine,
scientists from the charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK) said hiking
taxes by a large amount per cigarette would encourage people to quit
smoking altogether rather than switch to cheaper brands, and help
stop young people from taking up the habit.
As well as causing lung cancer, which is often fatal, smoking is the
largest cause of premature death from chronic conditions like heart
disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
Tobacco kills around 6 million people a year now, according to the
World Health Organization (WHO), and that toll is expected to rise
above 8 million a year by 2030 if nothing is done to curb smoking
Richard Peto, an epidemiologist at CRUK who led the study, said
aggressively increasing tobacco taxes would be especially effective
in poorer and middle-income countries where the cheapest cigarettes
are relatively affordable.
Of the 1.3 billion people around the world who smoke, most live in
poorer countries where often governments have also not yet
introduced smoke-free legislation.
But increasing tobacco tax would also be effective in richer
countries, Peto said, citing evidence from France, which he said
halved cigarette consumption from 1990 to 2005 by raising taxes well
"The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher
tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths," he said in a statement. "It
would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to
stop while there's still time."
While smokers lose at least 10 years of life, quitting before age 40
avoids more than 90 percent of the increased health risk run by
people who continue smoking. Stopping before age 30 avoids more than
97 percent of the risk.
Governments around the world have agreed to prioritize reducing
premature deaths from cancer and other chronic diseases in the
United Nations General Assembly and in the WHO's World Health
Assembly in 2013. They also agreed to a target of reducing smoking
by a third by 2025.
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The CRUK analysis found that doubling the price of cigarettes in
the next decade through increased taxes would cut worldwide
consumption by about a third by that target, and at the same time
increase annual government revenues from tobacco by a third from
around $300 billion to $400 billion.
This extra income, the researchers suggested, could be spent on
boosting health care budgets.
Peto noted that the international tobacco industry makes about
$50 billion in profits each year, saying this equated to
"approximately $10,000 per death from smoking".
"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 Harpal Kumar, CRUK's chief executive.
He said the study, which examined 63 research papers on the causes
and consequences of tobacco use in many different countries, showed tobacco
taxes are "a hugely powerful lever."
They are also potentially a triple win, Kumar said, cutting the
number of people who smoke and die from their addiction, reducing
the health care burden and costs linked to smoking and at the same
time increasing government income.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by
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