Tripling tobacco tax globally would cut smoking by one-third and prevent 200 million premature deaths this century from lung cancer and other diseases, according to a Cancer Research UK review published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Boosting tax by a large fixed amount per cigarette would encourage people to quit smoking altogether rather than switch to a cheaper brand, and would help stop young people from starting, concludes the review, Global Effects of Smoking, of Quitting and of Taxing Tobacco.
This would be especially effective in low-to-middle-income countries where the cheapest cigarettes are relatively affordable. But it would also be effective in richer countries: France halved cigarette consumption from 1990 to 2005 by raising taxes well above inflation.
“It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there’s still time,” said study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, an epidemiologist at Cancer Research UK.
Half will die
“Globally, about half of all young men and one in ten of all young women become smokers, and, particularly in developing countries, relatively few quit. If they keep smoking, about half will be killed by it, but if they stop before 40, they’ll reduce their risk of dying from tobacco by 90 per cent.”
He added: “The international tobacco industry makes about US$50 billion in profits each year – that’s a profit of approximately $10,000 per death from smoking.”
Smoking is the largest cause of premature death from chronic diseases (also known as non-communicable diseases or NCDs). In 2013 governments agreed a global target of reducing smoking by a third by 2025.
Tripling tobacco taxes would decrease worldwide consumption by about one-third, but despite this it would also increase government revenues from tobacco by a third, from US$300 billion a year now to US$400 billion a year – income which could be spent on better healthcare.
The review examined 63 research papers on the causes and consequences of tobacco use in many different countries.