WHO calls for tax increase to curb tobacco epidemic


Nepal has made progress in implementing bans on advertisement, promotion and sponsorships of tobacco products, according to a report released today by the World Health Organisation, which has called on nations across the globe to raise taxes on tobacco products to reduce its consumption.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2015, which was released today, said ‘too few’ governments levy appropriate levels of tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, as a result they miss out on a proven, low-cost measure to curb demand for tobacco, save lives and generate funds for stronger health services.

According to WHO, tobacco kills approximately six million people annually, 20 per cent of them live in South-East Asia Region, which accounts for 25 per cent of the world’s smokers and almost 90 per cent of smokeless tobacco users. Recent estimates show that there are about 246 million smokers and 290 million smokeless tobacco users in the region, said WHO.

“Increasing tobacco taxes is the most cost-effective measure of tobacco control, it is a win-win approach for government revenues and the health of the population. Governments need to tax all tobacco products in a manner that people do not opt out of one expensive product to a less expensive one. Taxing all tobacco products comparably is a must to reduce incentives for substitution,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia, in a statement after the release of the report.

Currently governments are levying much less tax on smokeless tobacco and regulations do not cover all aspects of smokeless tobacco use. Smokeless tobacco is the main cause of oral cancer in the region.

“Tax structure needs to be made simpler to be more effective. At the moment, most countries have a complex and tiered tax structure that is not only difficult to administer but also creates loopholes that undermine both the health and revenue impacts of tobacco excise taxes,” she said.

“Also, while revising and setting tobacco taxes, we must always ensure that the taxes are large enough to offset any increase in incomes and purchasing power. Equally important is the strong administration of tobacco taxes and crack down on illicit trade of tobacco to reap the public health benefit of tobacco tax increase — one of the biggest areas for improvement high-quality and accessible tobacco cessation programmes.”

According to WHO, many countries in the region have been making substantial progress in implementing tobacco control and prevention measures.

Bangladesh is among the seven countries in the world that have raised taxes that represent over 75 per cent of the retail price of a pack of cigarettes. Close on the heels are Sri Lanka and Thailand, with 70 per cent, Myanmar has expanded smoke free places.

The WHO report shows that between 2012 and 2014, Bangladesh, India and Maldives have made progress in increasing taxes on cigarettes. Bangladesh and Indonesia have implemented pictorial health warnings. Thailand has successfully protected warning label requirements (85 per cent of the two largest surfaces of cigarette packs and cartons). India’s comprehensive tobacco control programme has expanded to cover the entire nation, said the report.

“Countries in the region need to strengthen their initiatives against tobacco that continues to cause premature deaths while adding to the increasing epidemic of non-communicable diseases such as chronic lung disease, heart ailments and cancer,” said Singh.

Strategies to support the implementation of demand reduction measures contained within the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), such as the “MPOWER” package, have helped save millions of lives in the past decade.