Raising tobacco taxes worldwide may prevent up to 200 million smoking-related deaths


As if giving a twist to the popular adage that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes, authorities now believe that raising the latter will help combat the former - at least when the former is caused by lung cancer.

Scientists from the charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK), led by epidemiologist Richard Peto, have conducted a study linking taxes to cancer. They have published their review in the New England Journal of Medicine, saying that raising taxes significantly for each pack will not only encourage people to switch smoking cheaper brands, but also it will more effectively encourage people to stop smoking, and discourage non-smokers from picking up the habit in the first place.

In the CRUK study, it was revealed that although smokers shorten their lives by about 10 years because of the habit, quitting smoking before they turn 40 would help them avoid more than 90 percent of the health risks that smokers are exposed to. Furthermore, quitting smoking before age 30 presents a slightly rosier picture, with 97 percent of the health risks avoided.

The study examined 63 research papers on the causes and effects of tobacco use in many countries, and realized that tobacco taxes are "a hugely powerful lever." The findings further show that if increased taxes in cigarettes cause its price to double within the next decade, then consumption would plummet. At the same time, this would raise annual government revenues from tobacco to $400 billion, from $300 billion, income that could be used to boost healthcare programs.

Peto noted that with this scheme, there would potentially be about $50 billion in profits for the tobacco industry each year.

Harpal Kumar, CRUK's chief executive, says that there is an urgent need for governments to methodically and systematically help smokers stop smoking and prevent people from picking up the habit. "Worldwide," he says, "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." Kumar says the study outlines what is potentially a triple win, as it will not just cut the number of people who die from addiction to smoking, but also it will also reduce the cost of healthcare and increase government earnings at the same time.

This study is riding on the wave of the announcement of the World Health Organization (WHO) that tobacco kills around 6 million people a year. The WHO further says that, if nothing is done to combat the smoking phenomenon, this number is expected to rise to 8 million a year by the year 2030. During the United Nations General Assembly and WHO's Health Assembly in 2013, governments around the world responded to this call by agreeing to be more active in reducing premature deaths caused by cancer, further agreeing to target reduced incidence of smoking by a third of current statistics by the year 2025.

This is significant because most of the 1.3 billion smokers all over the world, live in poorer countries in which smoke-free legislation have yet to be introduced. In richer countries, the raise in tobacco taxes would be very effective. Peto cited France as an example, in which cigarette consumption was halved between 1990 to 2005 as a result of raising taxes on tobacco products.

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