High smoking tax to prevent millions of deaths
A World Health Organization (WHO) report states that if current smoking patterns continue, tobacco will take the lives of nearly 1 billion people this century, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. To add to that staggering statistic, almost half of these deaths will occur before 70 years of age. How can this be prevented?
According to a new study published in January online in the New England Journal of Medicine, hiking up the taxes on tobacco three times what it is now across the globe could prevent 200 million tobacco deaths by 2025 and reduce the number of smokers by one-third.
The thinking is that the large tax increase would double the street price of cigarettes in some countries and reduce the price gap between the cheapest and most expensive cigarettes. This in turn would encourage people to stop smoking vs. switching to a cheaper brand and help young people not take up the habit at all.
In a statement, study co-author Dr. Prabhat Jha said that this would be particularly effective in low- and middle-income countries, where the cheapest cigarettes are relatively affordable and where smoking rates continue to rise.
For people younger than 70 in North America, tobacco causes nearly 200,000 deaths each year. By doubling cigarette prices, 70,000 of those deaths would be prevented and provide new revenue that governments could spend on health care. Dr. Jha explained that although higher tobacco taxes would cut consumer spending, they would still generate an additional $100 billion a year for a total of $400 billion.
“Death and taxes are inevitable, but they don’t need to go in that order,” said Dr. Jha, director of the Centre for Global Health Research of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “A higher tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and to deter future smokers,” he added.
Dr. Prentiss Taylor, a preventive medicine primary care specialist with Advocate Medical Group agrees. Citing a report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Dr. Taylor points out that according to research, the main reason cigarette taxes are as effective as they are is that young people are very sensitive to price hikes.
“The report states cigarette prices that increase by 10 percent will lead smokers younger than 18 to cut their smoking by 5 to 15 percent. For adults over the age of 18, the decline would be more like 3 to 7 percent,” he says.
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