WHO Supports Increasing Prices for Tobacco in China
BEIJING, 14 March 2012 - The World Health Organization encourages higher tobacco taxes and prices to improve the health of people in China.
"Increasing prices through taxation has proven to be one of the most effective ways to discourage people from smoking, particularly young people," says Dr Michael O'Leary, WHO Representative in China.
Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the world. Each year in China, more than 1 million people die from tobacco-related cancer, heart disease, stroke or chronic respiratory ailments, such as emphysema. Those diseases, along with diabetes, are now the leading causes of death in China, where seven out of 10 adults report being exposed to second-hand smoke during a typical week and six out of 10 notice smoking in the workplace
The affordability of cigarettes is one of the main reasons for the high proportion of young male smokers in China. Of China's 350 million smokers, 50 million are young people, according to China's Ministry of Health. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey reveals that 52.9% of males 15 and older smoke, and that there is extremely limited awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco use.
The price of tobacco products is low in China, compared to other developing countries. Fifty per cent of smokers in China spend about US$ 0.70 (5 RMB) or less per pack of 20 cigarettes. In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the price of cigarettes recently doubled to one US dollar per pack. In Malaysia and in the Republic of Korea, the average cost is about US$ 2.50. In other developed countries, the average cost is higher. In Japan, it is five US dollars, while in Hong Kong (China), the price is US$ 6 and in Singapore US$ 9. Australia recently passed legislation to increase the price of a pack of 30 cigarettes to US$ 19.
WHO advocates that the excise tax on tobacco be at least 70% of retail price. The excise tax on the most-sold brand in China is 26%. Among the other BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa) with which China is often grouped, this is lower than India's 27% and South Africa's 40%, and much lower than in most developed countries.
Numerous studies, globally and in China, show that a small increase in the price of tobacco through increased taxation will significantly reduce the number of smokers and generate considerable extra revenue for the government. According to WHO, each 10% increase in retail price reduces consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and up to 8% in low- and middle-income countries, with smoking prevalence reduced by about half those rates.
"China is making significant progress in tobacco control. China’s 12th Five-Year Plan has called for smoke-free public places to contribute to the target of improved life expectancy," Dr O'Leary says. "We encourage China to use a percentage of tobacco taxes for health care, including health promotion and tobacco control.
"We further encourage China to implement effective pictorial health warnings to raise the level of awareness on the harms of smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke."
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to which China is a Party, specifies that health warnings and messages on tobacco product packaging and labeling should be 50% or more, but no less than 30%, of the principal display areas. Research shows that effectiveness of health warnings increases with size. Health warnings on cigarette packs in China are considerably smaller than those in such countries as the Philippines, Thailand, and Brazil. The guidelines to WHO FCTC Article 11 state that pictorials are more likely to be noticed, better communicate the health risks of tobacco use, increase motivation to quit, and are associated with quit attempts. Pictorial warnings have the greatest impact on two critical groups: youths and tobacco users with low literacy levels.
"These effective control measures would significantly reduce tobacco consumption and prevent unnecessary suffering and premature death of people during the productive years of their lives," Dr O'Leary says.
For more information, please contact:
Communications Officer, WHO China
Tel: +86 10 65327191