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Taxing Tobacco

Over the last ten years, impressive gains have been made in the battle against tobacco use, but much more remains to be done. By taxing tobacco, we have the potential to reverse the epidemic, prevent widespread illness and suffering, and save millions of lives every year.

GENEVA – Over the last ten years, impressive gains have been made in the battle against the tobacco epidemic. Spurred by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which entered into force in 2005, most countries have launched comprehensive tobacco-control programs. But much more remains to be done. If the tobacco epidemic is left unaddressed, the WHO estimates that it will kill one billion people over the course of this century.

Tobacco use has the potential to undermine economic and social development worldwide. In order to offset this, the WHO has identified six policies – encapsulated in the acronym MPOWER – that can stamp out the tobacco epidemic: Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; protect people from tobacco smoke; offer help to quit tobacco use; warn people about the dangers of tobacco; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; and raise taxes on tobacco.

Each letter of the acronym is important and necessary in the fight against the tobacco epidemic. But the last one – raising taxes on tobacco products – is deserving of careful attention. According to the latest WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, levying taxes on tobacco is one of the cheapest and most effective measures to prevent death and suffering. Unfortunately, it is a tool that few countries are using.

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