World No Tobacco Day: In Praise of High Taxes

The last day of May is World No Tobacco Day. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) is using its campaign to call upon governments worldwide to raise and maintain high levels of taxes on tobacco products.

The price of tobacco plays a significant role in starting and maintaining a cigarette habit. Raising tobacco taxes decreases demand, encourages cessation, prevents nonsmokers from starting, and reduces relapse among former smokers.

Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General reported that Big Tobacco’s marketing and discount practices are accountable for adolescents’ and young adults’ smoking. On the other hand, research from the last decade determined that increased cigarette prices lead to reduced prevalence of smoking among young people.

World No Tobacco Day 2014


World No Tobacco Day 2014
(Credit: WHO)

Big Tobacco’s marketing targets young people who feel invincible—and it’s working. Teen smoking is an enormous problem and a pediatric epidemic. In the United States, 3.6 million youth currently smoke cigarettes. In New York State, more than 100,000 high school students smoke and another 12,900 become new daily smokers each year.

The link between smoking and death from lung cancer and coronary artery disease is well-documented. In fact, evidence connects tobacco to diseases of nearly every internal organ, says the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. The WHO reports that tobacco kills nearly 6 million people worldwide each year. Those deaths include more than 600,000 nonsmokers who die from breathing second-hand smoke.

Recognize Myths & Half-Truths for World No Tobacco Day

The WHO reports that the tobacco industry tries to stall tax increases in many countries with false arguments or exaggerations. For instance:

Myth: Increased tobacco taxes reduce tax revenue.
In reality, tax revenue goes up. For instance, tax increases have successfully raised government revenues in Egypt and the Philippines.

Myth: Tobacco taxes reduce economic activity.
Consumers actually shift their spending to other consumer products and services–away from tobacco. The tobacco industry doesn’t like to lose customers.

Half-Truth: Taxes are a financial burden for poor smokers.
Smokers with lower incomes either quit or reduce their tobacco consumption. Higher tobacco taxes help decrease poor smokers’ spending on tobacco and improve their health.

Half-Truth: International differences in tobacco taxes and prices create the opportunity for illicit tobacco trade.
The primary drivers of illicit trade are weak governance/lack of high-level commitment; weak customs and excise administration; corruption and complicity among cigarette manufacturers, says the WHO. For that reason, tax increases should be introduced together with actions that strengthen tax administration and reduce incentives for tax evasion by manufacturers and criminal organizations. Governments can do this by simplifying taxation, monitoring the tobacco products market and strengthening customs and police.

Haven’t You Had Enough?

If World No Tobacco Day inspires you to fight the toll that smoking takes on your health and your wallet, take advantage of North Shore-LIJ’s free quit-smoking programs. Learn more from the Center for Tobacco Control or the New York State Smokers’ Quitline.

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