Too few governments make full use of tobacco taxes to dissuade people from smoking or help them to cut down and quit, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, recommending that at least 75 percent of the price of a pack of cigarettes should be tax.
In its "The Global Tobacco Epidemic 2015" report, the United Nations health agency said that one person dies from tobacco-related disease every six seconds or so, equivalent to about 6 million people a year. That number is forecast to rise to more than 8 million people a year by 2030 unless strong measures are taken to control what the WHO calls a "tobacco epidemic".
There are a billion smokers worldwide, but many countries have extremely low tobacco tax rates and some have no special tobacco taxes at all, the agency said.
"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,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in the report.
She urged all governments to look at the evidence and "adopt one of the best win-win policy options available for health".
Tobacco is one of the four main risk factors behind non-communicable diseases – mostly cancers, cardiovascular and lung diseases and diabetes. In 2012 these diseases killed 16 million people under the age of 70, with more than 80 percent of those deaths in poor or middle-income countries.
Douglas Bettcher, a WHO expert on the prevention of non-communicable diseases, cited evidence from countries such as China and France where higher tobacco taxes have been proven to reduce consumption and help people quit smoking.
Yet since 2008, when 22 countries had tobacco tax that accounted for more than 75 percent of the price of a packet of cigarettes, only 11 more countries have taken action to increase taxes to appropriate levels, the WHO said.
Commenting on the report, José Luis Castro Castro, president of the World Lung Foundation, said its message was clear.
"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.