Tobacco control’s most powerful policy features heavily on the conference programme – final plenary dedicated to tax

“Tobacco tax is a win-win. It’s a win for revenue and a win for public health.”

The closing plenary of the 17th WCTOH united economists and public health experts from around the world in a panel discussion on tobacco tax.

Dr Frank Chaloupka, Economy Professor at the University of Illinois opened the session: “When we raise taxes, we raise prices, we reduce tobacco use. The evidence is really clear.”

He said evidence was also now established on the broader economic impacts of tobacco use. He said progressivity – counter to tobacco industry claims – was a key benefit of increasing tobacco taxes, resulting in better health, and more income freed up to spend on food and education. Despite being the most powerful policy for reducing tobacco use, he said the latest WHO MPOWER report showed that it was also the least used measure. Dr Chaloupka said the tobacco industry was largely responsible for this – as they have better access to the people who make tax policy than public health advocates.

Dr Hana Ross, Principal Research Officer at Cape Town University’s School of Economics spoke about illicit trade in relation to tobacco tax, and debunked industry messaging that an increase in tax leads to an increase in tobacco smuggling and related crime. She said: “The solution is not to stop increasing tobacco taxes. The solution is for governments to strengthen law enforcement and to increase investment in new technological solutions for tracking and tracing illicit trade.”

Jeremias N. Paul, Coordinator of Tobacco Control Economics at the World Health Organization spoke about his experiences while working in the Philippines’ Ministry of Health where he was instrumental in introducing comprehensive tobacco tax policies.

“You can save lives, and at the same time raise revenue,” he said. “Tobacco kills more than seven million people each year and imposes a huge economic burden on a country. Tobacco tax is a win-win. It’s a win for revenue and a win for public health.”

He said that as a result of increased tobacco tax in the Philippines, 10 million poor families became beneficiaries of free healthcare, immunisation programmes were scaled-up and elderly people received more support – all using the additional revenue raised taxing tobacco.

Patricio V. Marquez, Lead Public Health Specialist at the World Bank said: “Tobacco taxation is starting to connect with other priorities in the global development agenda. It is now seen as integral to achieving better lives for all. By advocating for increased tobacco tax first and foremost as a public health measure that contributes to health capital, it immediately links to our overall objective of eliminating extreme poverty in countries.”

The session was chaired by Dr Yussuf Saloojee of South Africa’s National Council Against Smoking.

Earlier in the week a series of special sessions focusing on tobacco tax saw new research presented from around the world on issues including employment, agriculture, illicit trade, gender, and sustainable funding for tobacco control and public health programmes.