Tripling Tobacco Tax
January 2, 2014

Study Suggests Tripling Tobacco Tax To Curb Smoking

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While it may cause some grumbling among smokers, high taxes on tobacco products have been shown to be an effective way to reduce the use of cigarettes. A research review published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine has called for these prohibitive taxes to be taken a step further – suggesting that a tripling of taxes could cut the number of smokers by one-third and stop 200 million premature deaths.

Such a large tax increase, which would double the retail price of cigarettes in some countries, would be especially helpful in low- and middle-income countries where the fairly cheap cigarettes fuel a rising smoking rate, the study authors said.

Study author Dr. Phabhat Jha said the proposed tax increase would also be effective in more affluent countries. He noted that France cut its cigarette consumption in half between 1990 and 2005 by raising taxes well above the rate of inflation. The prohibitively high taxes would also narrow the price gap between the cheapest and most expensive cigarettes, encouraging cessation instead of simply downgrading brands.

"Death and taxes are inevitable, but they don't need to be in that order," said Jha, a public health professor at the University of Toronto. "A higher tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and to deter future smokers."

Agreements made at the United Nations General Assembly and the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2013 Assembly were focused on lowering the popularity of smoking by about one-third by 2025, effectively reducing premature deaths from lung cancer and other chronic diseases.

"Worldwide, around a half-billion children and adults under the age of 35 are already – or soon will be – smokers and on current patterns few will quit," said study author Richard Peto, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford. "So there's an urgent need for governments to find ways to stop people starting and to help smokers give up.”

“This study demonstrates that tobacco taxes are a hugely powerful lever and potentially a triple win – reducing the numbers of people who smoke and who die from their addiction, reducing premature deaths from smoking and yet, at the same time, increasing government income,” Peto added. “All governments can take action by regularly raising tobacco taxes above inflation, and using occasional steep tax hikes starting with their next budget. Young adult smokers will lose about a decade of life if they continue to smoke – they've so much to gain by stopping."

The study team emphasized that studies from the past year have found that men and women who began smoking as children and continued throughout adulthood had two or three times the mortality rate of non-smokers. Both Jha and Peto published papers in 2012 showing that people who stopped smoking when they were young were able to regain nearly ten years of life they might otherwise have lost.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking cessation reduces the risk of lung cancer, coronary heart disease, declining lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Women who stop smoking in their reproductive years have been shown to reduce their risk for infertility.