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Cancer organisations have launched a new initiative to build a vigorous global coalition to support governments seeking to increase tobacco taxes.

The American Cancer Society’s Economic and Health Policy Research (EHPR) programme – the technical lead for the initiative – has developed a portfolio of easy-to- understand fact sheets and tools to support governments and civil society.

The EHPR team’s main tool is a dynamic model that can predict the tax increase necessary for a country to reach the WHO target of a 30-percent reduction in smoking prevalence by 2025 (with 2010 as the base year).

The team has already used publicly available data to model tobacco tax increases for 72 countries. For example, for Albania to reach the target, cigarette prices would need to be increased to 542.61 Albanian Lek per pack by 2025, which is a 4-fold tax increase. (See figure.)

The WHO target was adopted at the Sixth Conference of FCTC Parties in 2014. Achieving it would help countries reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of reducing premature mortality from noncommunicable disease (NCD) by one-third by 2030, but a recent report from WHO indicates that most countries aren’t on track to meet that target.

The cancer community has a vested interest in this issue. Around 20 percent of global cancer deaths are related to tobacco. As Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Research UK, said at the World Cancer Congress last week:

“Global tobacco use remains, by far, the most important modifiable risk factor for cancer, and an area where cancer organizations could make a meaningful difference if we
worked together.”

According to Gary M. Reedy, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS): “The time is right for this campaign. There is an urgency for governments around the world to respond to the WHO’s call for a 30 percent relative reduction in adult smoking prevalence by 2025. The most plausible way for governments to reach this target is by raising tobacco taxes.”

Article 6 of the WHO FCTC commits governments to raising tobacco excise taxes in order to reduce the affordability of tobacco products. This is one of the most effective tools to prevent initiation and promote cessation of tobacco use, with studies proving that it is particularly effective among the young and the poor. As detailed in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda last year, it is also a recommended means of generating millions of dollars annually in sustainable government revenue that can be reinvested in health and development priorities – including cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. These revenues could easily fund the implementation of the WHO FCTC’s provisions, too, and the strategy could deliver significant savings in future health care costs, thanks to a reduction in tobacco related disease.

In spite of these clear benefits, many countries have been slow to implement effective tax and price measures. Barriers to high tobacco taxes include a lack of information in clear, non-technical language that can help potential proponents of tobacco tax reform to effectively make their case – particularly in the face of misinformation promoted by the tobacco industry. Moreover, governments and their nongovernmental allies sometimes lack the technical capacity to implement a successful tobacco
taxation programe.

The cancer community’s tobacco tax initiative aims to increase understanding within the global public health community – and within Ministries of Finance and Ministries of Health – of the power of tobacco taxation as an effective measure for reducing tobacco use, preventing NCDs, such as cancer, and raising sustainable revenues for national governments. Assistance is available to support stakeholders wishing to be part of the campaign, especially for those who have not worked in the field of tobacco taxation before.

The dynamic model can also be adjusted for country-specific needs to use data provided by in-country experts and to reflect other, perhaps more ambitious, scenarios for tobacco tax increases. The model also accounts for changes in the affordability of tobacco products, changing price elasticities, and any country’s tax structure.

Cancer organisations are ready to take a lead in raising the prominence of tobacco taxation as an essential intervention for cancer prevention, but ultimately it is only through a true partnership among motivated governments and nongovernmental stakeholders – the people attending COP7 this week – that an effective tobacco tax strategy can be realised.

The EHPR team attending COP7 – Jeff Drope, Michal Stoklosa and Jacqui Drope – are available to discuss this initiative and provide advice on tobacco taxation. Fact sheets for 72 countries are available upon request and at the FCA booth. To arrange a discussion with an EHPR representative, or to be kept up-to-date with developments, please email

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