World Health Organization Urges All Countries to Raise Tobacco Taxes

By May Wilkerson 07/09/15

Every six seconds someone in the world dies from a smoking-related illness.

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Governments across the globe need to step it up in the war on smoking by raising tobacco taxes, said the World Health Organization (WHO) this week. The United Nations health agency recommended that taxes should make up at least 75% of the price of a pack of smokes.

Every six seconds someone dies from an illness related to tobacco use, according to a report titled "The Global Tobacco Epidemic 2015,” which the agency released this week. This adds up to about six million tobacco-related deaths a year. That number is expected to rise to more than eight million people a year by 2030.

There are an estimated billion smokers across the world, but many countries tax tobacco at extremely low rates, while some don’t tax tobacco at all. "Raising taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective—and cost-effective—ways to reduce consumption of products that kill, while also generating substantial revenue,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in the report. She urged all governments to “adopt one of the best win-win policy options available for health.”

Countries like China and France have seen success in reducing smoking rates by raising tobacco taxes, said Douglas Bettcher, a WHO expert on the prevention of non-communicable diseases. In 2008, only 22 countries had implemented a tobacco tax that accounted for more than 75% of the price of a pack of cigarettes. And in the past seven years, only 11 more countries have adopted similar tax policies.

In 2012, more than 16 million people below age 70 died from tobacco-related illnesses, more than 80% of them in poor or middle-income countries. According to José Luis Castro, president of the World Lung Foundation, the death toll will only continue to rise unless more countries take action.

"This report confirms that a failure to increase taxes on tobacco products will certainly lead to more premature death and disease, particularly in low and middle-income countries with high levels of smoking and where tobacco is affordable," he said.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.