WHO calls on countries to raise taxes on tobacco
The tobacco epidemic kills nearly six million people each year, of which more than 600 000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke. If nothing is done, the epidemic will kill more than eight million people every year by 2030, with more than 80% of these preventable deaths in low and middle-income countries.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) recommends that countries implement tax and price policies on tobacco products as a way to reduce tobacco consumption. Research shows that higher taxes are especially effective in reducing tobacco use among lower-income groups and in preventing young people from starting to smoke.
On World No Tobacco Day on 31 May 2014, WHO and partners called on countries to raise taxes on tobacco to lower consumption and finance health. A 10% increase in the price of tobacco would result in up to 8% reduction in usage in most low and middle-income countries (WHO Report on the global tobacco epidemic 2013, p. 79).
Although all countries have various taxes on tobacco products, the form which most effectively raises retail prices is the excise tax. About 90% of countries in the Region levy excise taxes on tobacco products (Policies for tobacco control in the African Region 2013, p. 7).
A WHO estimate indicates that an increase of 50% in cigarette excise taxes in 22 of the 49 low-income countries would generate a total of USD 1.42 billion.
Health is underfunded in low and middle-income countries. These countries could use these tax revenues to strengthen their health systems, with the added benefit of decreasing tobacco use, particularly among young people and the poor.
However, raising taxes on tobacco products remains the measure least likely to be established. Worldwide, only 14 countries and one territory have increased their tax rates to sufficiently high levels in the past five years, and only six countries in the past two.
Gambia changed the base for its excise on cigarettes from weight to volume in 2012. Evidence shows that basing taxes on weight of tobacco encourages the industry to produce lighter – but not less harmful – cigarettes to pay less taxes.
In 2013, Gambia also raised the excise on all tobacco products to the same rate. This has the benefit of discouraging consumers from switching to a cheaper product when taxes are increased.
Governments around the world tend to impose higher taxes on cigarettes than on other tobacco products, leading to price differences and encouraging substitution from higher priced products (usually cigarettes) to cheaper tobacco products such as waterpipe tobacco or roll-your-own cigarettes. Taxing all products similarly leads to a harmonization of prices and reduces incentives for substitution. (see WHO brochure Raising tax on tobacco: what you need to know, p. 11)
Regional Office initiatives
In September 2013, the Sixty-third session of the Regional Committee for Africa endorsed a report by the Regional Director on progress in the fight against tobacco in the African Region. A brief article on this report, Africa making huge strides in fighting tobacco use, was also published in issue 18 of The African Health Monitor.
Useful resources and tools
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization. The Convention opened for signature on 16 June 2003 and entered into force on 27 February 2005. It has been ratified by 178 countries, which makes it one of the most widely embraced treaties in the United Nations’ history. As of 31 May 2014, 42 of the 47 Member States in the African Region had ratified or acceded to the WHO FCTC.
Policies for tobacco control in the African Region, 2013
The WHO Regional Office for Africa published in 2013 a document called “Policies for tobacco control in the African region, 2013”. This document details key measures in the WHO FCTC and its guidelines that countries should implement for effective tobacco control. It also features the status of key tobacco control policies in the Region. The information is useful to policy-makers, governments and tobacco control advocates for countries in the African Region in order to prevent people from starting to use tobacco, help current tobacco users quit and protect people from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in the African Region, 2013
Banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is an obligation under Article 13 of the WHO FCTC. Countries in the African Region are at different stages in banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The document “Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in the African Region, 2013” features key information related to effective ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship as contained in Article 13 of the WHO FCTC and its guidelines. It also reports progress in implementation from the WHO Report on the global tobacco epidemic as well as factsheets on the Global Youth Tobacco Survey.
WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2013
The WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2013 tracks the status of the tobacco epidemic and the impact of interventions implemented to stop it. The 2013’s report focuses on complete bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), which is a highly effective way to reduce or eliminate exposure to cues for tobacco use. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the evidence base for establishing TAPS bans, as well as country-specific information on the status of complete bans and bans on individual TAPS components. The WHO Report on the global tobacco epidemic 2013 shows that any country can establish an effective tobacco control programme to reduce tobacco use, regardless of its political structure or income level.
Raising tax on tobacco: what you need to know
This short brochure gives examples of how some countries have successfully introduced effective tobacco tax policies. It also explains the myths spread by the tobacco industry about the impact of tobacco tax increases. It also lists what WHO recommends for further progress towards more effective tobacco tax policies.
WHO Tobacco Tax Simulation Model aims to help countries with tax policy analysis, impact assessment and decision-making. It is available to be used for free.
Tobacco control country profiles
The tobacco control country profiles were generated from data collected for the WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2013. The country profiles provide information about tobacco prevalence, preventive measures, cessation, and tobacco economics.
Information in the AHO
The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2014 provides a health situation analysis of the WHO African Region. It has information on the prevalence of smoking in countries in the Region and in relation to other WHO regions in the section on key determinants. This information can also be found in the AHO Data and Statistics section of the Observatory.
Further information can also be found in the section on tobacco use in the Regional profile of the AHO.