WHO Urges Tobacco Tax Hikes
GENEVA (AP) - Big increases in taxes on tobacco products could save millions of lives, above all in developing countries, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
``There is an expression that death and taxes are unavoidable. We argue that this is the one tax that can help you avoid death,'' said Prabhat Jha, co-author of the Tobacco Control in Developing Countries study.
The 512-page report, the result of a three-year research project, argued that a 10 percent increase in tobacco taxes worldwide would persuade about 42 million people to give up smoking and could prevent about 10 million deaths - 9 million of them in developing countries.
``There is absolutely clear evidence that higher prices reduce consumption, especially among youth,'' Jha said. ``In Canada in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when they significantly increased prices, consumption fell by 50 to 60 percent.''
Philip Morris headquarters in Europe referred questions to its U.S. head office, which was not yet available for comment.
The study said youth, poor people, and the less well-educated are more likely to respond to an increase in price than wealthier, better-educated people.
This means that tobacco taxes would be particularly successful in the developing world, where the majority of tobacco-related deaths are expected to occur in the coming century. The WHO said that tobacco companies target developing countries for sales because of their high potential for market growth.
The World Health Organization estimates that smoking kills more than 4 million people per year and says the toll may rise to 10 million per year by 2030 because of surging tobacco use in countries such as China.
Around half of all long-term smokers die from tobacco-related illnesses, and half of those die in middle age, losing 20 to 25 years of productive life, the WHO said.
Government taxes represent a smaller percentage of cigarette prices in developing countries than they do in the richest nations, the report said.
The study rejects suggestions that an increase in tobacco taxes could lead to a major loss of jobs in cigarette production.
``As people don't spend money on cigarettes, they will spend money on other goods. They will buy popcorn, they go to the movies. These generate alternative jobs and also alternative revenues,'' said Jha.
The authors conceded that higher tobacco taxes lead to more smuggling, but say governments can use the extra tax revenue to combat contraband goods.
The report said many other measures aimed at controlling tobacco, such as restricting supply, had been largely ineffective. A total ban on tobacco advertising and promotion had an impact, but partial bans had little or no effect on tobacco consumption.