Tripling Tobacco Tax Could Save 200 Million Lives Worldwide

By Shawn Dwyer 01/03/14

Smoking globally could be cut by a third and prevent deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

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A review published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers from the charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK) argues that raising taxes per cigarette by a large amount would discourage people from smoking and prevent younger would-be smokers from ever picking up the habit.

According to the study’s lead author, Richard Peto, an epidemiologist with CRUK, such a heavy tax on cigarettes would be most effective in poorer and middle class countries, where most of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers live. "The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths," Peto said. "It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there's still time." But such a measure has had demonstrable effects on richer nations as well. Peto pointed to France, which cut cigarette consumption by half from 1990 to 2005 by taxing cigarettes well over the rate of inflation.

In 2013, world governments agreed to make reducing premature deaths from smoking a legislative priority by reducing smoking by a third by 2025. The study’s researchers pointed to their analysis as a way forward in that goal. "Worldwide, around half a billion children and adults under the age of 35 are already - or soon will be - smokers, and many will be hooked on tobacco for life. So there's an urgent need for governments to find ways to stop people starting and to help smokers give up," said Harpal Kumar, chief executive of CRUK.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.

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