Tripling taxes on cigarettes around the world would reduce the number of smokers by one-third and prevent 200 million premature deaths from lung cancer and other diseases this century, according to a review published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Such a large tax increase would double the street price of cigarettes in some countries and narrow the price gap between the cheapest and most expensive cigarettes, which would encourage people to stop smoking rather than switch to a cheaper brand and help young people not to start.
This would be especially effective in low- and middle-income countries, where the cheapest cigarettes are relatively affordable and where smoking rates continue to rise, said Dr. Prabhat Jha, director of the Centre for Global Health Research of St. Michael's Hospital and a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. But it would also be effective in rich countries, he said, noting that France halved cigarette consumption between 1990 and 2005 by raising taxes well above inflation.
"Death and taxes are inevitable, but they don't need to be in that order," Dr. Jha said. "A higher tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and to deter future smokers."
Countries around the world agreed at the United Nations General Assembly and the World Health Organization's 2013 Assembly to decrease the prevalence of smoking by about one-third by 2025 to reduce premature deaths from cancer and other chronic diseases by 25 per cent.
Tobacco causes about 200,000 deaths a year of people under 70 in Canada and the United States (120,000 men and 80,000 women). Doubling cigarette prices would prevent about 70,000 of those deaths and provide new revenue that governments could spend on health care. Dr. Jha said that even while higher tobacco taxes would reduce consumption, they would still generate an additional $100 billion U.S. a year for a total of $400 billion.
"Worldwide, around a half-billion children and adults under the age of 35 are already - or soon will be - smokers and on current patterns few will quit," said Professor Sir Richard Peto of the University of Oxford, the co-author.