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Panama and Costa Rica are recognized for increasing tobacco taxes

Washington, D.C., 30 May 2014 (PAHO/WHO) On World No Tobacco Day (31 May), the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is calling on countries to raise taxes on tobacco to encourage users to stop and to prevent other people from becoming addicted to tobacco.

Based on 2012 data, PAHO/WHO estimates that if all countries increased tobacco taxes by 50%, they could reduce the number of smokers by 49 million within the next three years and ultimately save 11 million lives.
Every six seconds someone dies from using tobacco, which kills up to half its users. It also incurs considerable costs for families, businesses and governments. Treating tobacco-related diseases like cancer and heart disease is expensive. And as tobacco-related disease and death often strikes people in the prime of their working lives, productivity and incomes fall.  
"Raising taxes on tobacco is the most effective way to reduce use and save lives," says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. "Determined action on tobacco tax policy hits the industry where it hurts."

Tobacco taxes in the Americas

In the Americas, several countries have made progress in implementing tobacco price and tax measures. Two countries of the Region are being recognized in conjunction with this year's World No Tobacco Day campaign. Panama is the winner of the WHO Director-General's Special Recognition for its enactment in 2009 of comprehensive tobacco control legislation that not only increased tobacco taxes but also earmarked the resulting revenues for tobacco control and other health-related initiatives. Costa Rica is the winner of a World No Tobacco Day regional award for its passage of  a comprehensive tobacco control law that  increased tobacco taxes to 71.5% of the final price to the consumer (with additional automatic increases each year). It too requires that all new revenue be allocated to tobacco control programs and other health initiatives.

Nevertheless, "Much work needs to be done in the Region, where few countries have met the recommended 75% tax level on the final price of tobacco products recommended by PAHO and WHO," said Adriana Blanco, PAHO/WHO advisor on tobacco control. "In many countries, tobacco prices remain low and affordable, especially for young people, which is of particular concern."

The young and poor people benefit most

High prices have proven particularly effective in discouraging young people (who often have more limited incomes than older adults) from taking up smoking. They also encourage existing young smokers to either reduce their use of tobacco or quit altogether.
"Price increases are two to three times more effective in reducing tobacco use among young people than among older adults," says Douglas Bettcher, Director of the Department for Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO. "Tax policy can be divisive, but this is the tax rise everyone can support. As tobacco taxes go up, death and disease go down."  
Good for economies too
WHO calculates that if all countries increased tobacco taxes by 50% per pack, governments would earn an extra US$ 101 billion in global revenue.
"These additional funds could—and should—be used to advance health and other social programs," adds Bettcher.
Countries such as France and the Philippines have already seen the benefits of imposing high taxes on tobacco. Between the early 1990s and 2005, France tripled its inflation-adjusted cigarette prices, and sales fell more than 50%. A few years later the number of young men dying from lung cancer in France began to decline. In the Philippines, one year after increasing taxes, the government has collected more than the expected revenue and plans to spend 85% of this on health services.
Tobacco taxes are a core element of tobacco control
Tobacco use is the world's leading preventable cause of death. Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers who die from breathing secondhand smoke. If no action is taken, tobacco will kill over 8 million people yearly by 2030, more than 80% of them living in low- and middle-income countries.
Raising taxes on tobacco to help reduce tobacco consumption is a core element of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty that entered into force in 2005 and has been endorsed by 178 Parties. Article 6 of the WHO FCTC, Price and Tax Measures to Reduce the Demand for Tobacco, recognizes that "price and tax measures are an effective and important means of reducing tobacco consumption by various segments of the population, in particular young persons."

World No Tobacco Day Awards, U.S. Surgeon General's report (June 2 event)

On June 2, World No Tobacco Day will be observed at PAHO's Washington, D.C., headquarters in a special event where U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak will be the keynote speaker. Lushniak will describe progress in tobacco control in the 50 years since the first U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was published (in 1964) and will discuss new data on the health consequences of tobacco use contained in the most recent surgeon general's report. He will also launch a consumer guide for the 50th anniversary report.

Also during the event, the ministries of health of Panama and Costa Rica and four individuals from Canada and the United States will be honored with the World No Tobacco Day awards for their work in tobacco control.

Editor's note
In September 2011, world leaders adopted a UN Political Declaration on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) at the United Nations General Assembly and committed themselves to accelerate implementation of the WHO FCTC. WHO was requested to complete a number of global assignments that would accelerate national efforts to address NCDs.
Since then a global agenda has been set, based on nine concrete global NCD targets for 2025 organized around the WHO global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013-2020. The plan comprises a set of actions which, when performed collectively by Member States, UN agencies and WHO, will help to achieve the global target of a 25% reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025 and a 30% reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use. The WHO global action plan indicates that making tobacco products less affordable by increasing tobacco taxes is a very cost-effective and affordable intervention for all Member States.
The United Nations will hold a comprehensive review on the prevention and control of NCDs 10-11 July 2014 in New York. The review will provide a timely opportunity for rallying political support for the acceleration of actions by governments, international partners and WHO included in the WHO global action plan, including  raising tobacco taxes.