WHO: US$ 1.4 trillion lost every year to tobacco use - New tobacco tax manual shows ways to save lives, money and build back better after COVID-19

17 April, 2021

Press release and comment from me below. Read online: https://www.who.int/news/item/12-04-2021-1.4-trillion-lost-every-year-to...

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12 April 2021 Departmental news Reading time: 1 min (295 words)

WHO’s new technical manual on tobacco tax policy and administration shows countries ways to cut down on over US$1.4 trillion in health expenditures and lost productivity due to tobacco use worldwide.

Improved tobacco taxation policies can also be a key component of building back better after COVID-19, where countries need additional resources to respond and to finance health system recovery.

“We launched this new manual to provide updated, clear, and practical guidance for policymakers, finance officials, tax authorities, customs officials and others involved in tobacco tax policy to create and implement the strongest tobacco taxation policies for their specific countries,” said Jeremias N. Paul Jr, Unit Head for the Fiscal Policies for Health team in the Health Promotion Department at WHO.

“We hope this document sheds light on the significant advantages to raising tobacco taxation. The data and insights provided here should be an eye opener for policymakers worldwide,” he said.

The ‘best buy’ highlighted in the manual not only saves money, but saves lives. The human and economic costs of tobacco are on the rise - 8 million people died because of tobacco last year.

Only 14% of the world has enough tax on tobacco

In 2018 only 38 countries, covering 14% of the global population had sufficiently high tobacco taxes - which means taxing at least 75% of the price of these health-harming products. By implementing proven policies like tobacco taxes, the costs created by the tobacco industry to local communities and nations can be avoidable. It is a win for population health, revenue and for development and equity.

Raising tobacco taxes is SMART

Tobacco taxes Save lives, Mobilize resources, Address health inequities, Reduce health system burdens and costs, and Target noncommunicable risk factors for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Comment (NPW): In addition to raising taxes, governments have a legal obligation under international human rights law to ensure their populations have access to the information they need to protect their health (HIFA and New York Law School 2012). This clearly includes knowledge of the health risks of smoking. The reality is that many if not most smokers have no idea of the full range of risks they face. A recent study from Europe found that 'more than 20% of the smokers did not know that tobacco use causes mouth cancer, pulmonary diseases, and stroke. Smokers’ knowledge of the causal relationship between smoking and impotence and blindness was significantly lower'. Is anyone aware of a synthesis of research on public knowledge about smoking? This would serve as a useful baseline.

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org