Updated 03 June 2014

Raising sin tax gets smokers to quit

On World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2014, the World Health Organisation calls for nations to dramatically raise taxes on tobacco as the most effective way to curb smoking.

Increasing tobacco taxes and prices has been shown worldwide to be the single most cost-effective means of getting smokers to quit, claims the World Health Organisation (WHO).   

This is confirmed by a report released 29 May 2014 by the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Policy Evaluation Project.

The report, “Tobacco Price and Taxation: ITC Cross-Country Comparison Report”, compares data from surveys of over 20 countries.

The ITC report states that making cigarettes more expensive is effective both in preventing the youth from starting smoking, and in promoting reduction and cessation among current smokers.

On average, a 10% price increase on a pack of cigarettes reduces demand by 2.5% - 5% in high-income countries, and by 2% - 8% in low- and middle-income countries (such as South Africa), where lower incomes generally make people more sensitive to price changes.

Raise tax 50%, save 11 million lives

The WHO estimates that if all countries increased taxes on cigarette packs by 50%, there would be 49 million fewer smokers (38 million fewer adult smokers and 11 million fewer young future smokers) in the world, and this would avert 11 million deaths from smoking.

Currently, tobacco-related disease is estimated to claim six million lives every year.

How much do you spend on cigarettes? Find out: Cost of Smoking Tool

Does raising taxes boost illegal cigarette trade?

Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases commented:

“The tobacco industry has claimed that increased tobacco taxes leading to higher real prices do not improve public health but just encourage illicit tobacco trade.

"The findings of the ITC Project, however, reinforce existing evidence that taxes and prices do play a critical role in fighting the global tobacco epidemic.”

In their "Raise Taxes on Tobacco Campaign" information brochure, WHO explains there are other more important factors that encourage illicit trade, such as poor enforcement of tobacco regulations and lack of commitment by authorities, weak customs and excise administration, corruption and complicity of cigarette manufacturers.

WHO recommends that tax increases be accompanied by actions to strengthen tax administration - such as strengthening customs and police - to reduce incentives for tax evasion by tobacco product manufacturers and criminal syndicates.

ITC Project press release, 29 May 2014
WHO Raise Taxes on Tobacco campaign brochure

Read more:
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Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.


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