The phrase “tax increase” is stressful; however, according to new research, tripling tobacco taxes could prevent 200 million early deaths worldwide. Researchers from the University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada) and the University of Oxford (Oxford, United Kingdom) published their findings on January 2 in The New England Journal of Medicine. Their review concluded that a substantial increase in tobacco taxes would encourage individuals to quit smoking altogether rather than switch to cheaper brands; furthermore, it would deter people to take up the habit in the first place.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco currently kills approximately 6 million people a year, and that rate is expected to rise above 8 million a year by 2030 if nothing is done to restrain smoking rates. About half of these deaths will occur before 70 years of age. This increase is partly due to population growth and partly due to the fact that, in some large populations, generations in which few people smoked substantial numbers of cigarettes throughout adult life are being succeeded by generations in which many people smoke. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the county. As well as causing lung cancer, which is often fatal, smoking is the largest cause of premature death from chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. At present, worldwide approximately 50% of young men and 10% of young women are taking up the habit and relatively few are quitting.
The 2013 World Health Assembly issued a request to governments that they should reduce the prevalence of smoking by about a third by 2025; the assembly noted that this would prevent more than 200 million deaths from tobacco during the remainder of the century. The study authors note that price is the key determinant of smoking uptake and cessation; they note that, worldwide, a reduction of about a third could be achieved by doubling the inflation-adjusted price of cigarettes, which in many low- and middle-income nations could be achieved by tripling the specific excise tax on tobacco.
The researchers note that comprehensive tobacco-control programs using several price- and non-price interventions can substantially raise smoking-cessation rates and decrease initiation of smoking. Interventions that include tax increases were recommended by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Uruguay implemented most of the FCTC provisions; as a result, tobacco use decreased much more rapidly than Argentina, which implemented only a few of the provisions. They explain that substantial increases in specific excise taxes on tobacco are particularly important because they can have a significant and rapid effect on consumption. Reviews of comprehensive control programs in various states in the US and other high-income regions agree that higher prices account for much, but not all, of the decline in smoking.
The study authors note that an International Agency for Research on Cancer review of more than 100 econometric studies confirmed that tobacco taxes and consumption are strongly inversely related, meaning that as taxes increased, consumption decreased. The agency concluded that a 50% increase in inflation-adjusted tobacco prices reduces consumption by approximately 20% in both high-income countries and low- and middle-income nations.