By the time you finish reading this article, around 50 people would have died from a cause related to smoking. The WHO has warned in its “report on the global tobacco epidemic”, that smoking claims one life every 6 seconds, or around 6 million lives per year, more than malaria, TB and HIV combined. Unless controlled, this figure is likely to reach 8 million by the year 2030.
Studies show that the global consumption of cigarettes is increasing steadily, perhaps due to the rising global population, albeit a reduction in the number of smokers in many countries. The WHO proposes an increase in taxes on tobacco products to stop this trend. However, only 33 WHO member countries out of 194, have increased tobacco taxes to a 75% (of retail price) level.
"Increasing taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective - and also cost-effective - means of reducing consumption of products that kill while generating a substantial tax income," explained Margarte Chan, Director-General of the WHO. "I encourage all governments to look at the evidence, not the industry's arguments, and adopt one of the best win-win policy options available for health."
The cost deterrent proposed by the WHO may not be the only option to curb smoking at a population level. One of the major arguments against a tax rise is that it would not significantly deter the rich smoker, but more importantly, it may push the poor smoker (and his family) closer towards poverty.
Alternative options need to be explored urgently, as tobacco use is the major risk factor for chronic diseases like cancers, heart and lung diseases and diabetes, which were responsible for 16 million premature deaths in 2012.