The Lancet calls for higher tax on cigarettes


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Governments of high, middle, and low income countries should commit to annual price increases of 50% on cigarettes to prevent a worldwide epidemic of lung cancer, states an editorial in this week's issue of The Lancet.

Lung cancer has become the most common cancer worldwide. Of the 1.4 million individuals diagnosed with the disease this year, more than 85% will die before 2010. These deaths are the legacy of smoking habits from 20 years ago. Two decades from now, with smoking rates falling in many high-income countries, people living in low and middle income countries will be the worst affected, states the editorial.

Public-information campaigns and regulation have helped curb smoking rates in the UK, Canada, the USA, and northern Europe. But in many developing countries poor literacy, poverty, and underdeveloped health systems have hindered the dissemination of anti-smoking messages. Within 20 years, 75% of people dying from cancer will be in the developing world. What is really needed, to reduce the demand for a product that causes 5 million deaths globally a year--almost 10% of the world's all-cause mortality--are aggressive tobacco taxation policies, states the editorial. The World Bank estimates that a price increase of 10% can reduce demand for tobacco products by 4% in high income countries and by 8% in low and middle income countries.

The Lancet comments: "We urge all governments to commit to annual price increases of 50%. That is the only way to begin to reduce demand for a product that causes such endemic tragedy. If the cause of lung cancer were an infectious agent, millions--if not billions--of pounds would have been poured into an eradication campaign. There is no such natural contagion, however, for lung cancer. Instead, the single, human-made causative factor is flourishing. Tobacco manufacturers continue ruthlessly to promote a pastime that will kill 50% of those who acquire the habit. The least we should do is match this 50% mortality with a 50% tax."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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