“Raising tobacco taxes will save lives” key message on World No Tobacco Day

News release

China should raise taxes on tobacco products to lower smoking rates and save lives, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on World No Tobacco Day.

“Policy-makers should substantially increase taxes on tobacco, while ensuring that the increase is passed on to the retail price of tobacco products,” said Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China. “This is the single most effective measure authorities can take to reduce the death, disease, and economic harm tobacco is causing China’s society and economy.”

Among the modifiable risk factors for mortality, tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death, and kills 1 million people in China each year. When tobacco prices rise, consumption falls – along with smoking-related death and disease, delivering widespread health and economic benefits by keeping more people healthy and productive. Higher taxes also generate additional revenue that can be invested back into health services or other Government priorities.

“It’s a win-win,” Dr Schwartländer said. “Good for people’s health, and good for the economy.”

In low- and middle-income countries, a 10 per cent increase in the price of tobacco products leads to a 5 per cent reduction in tobacco use, according to WHO estimates. The effects are especially pronounced among price-sensitive young people, who reduce their consumption by 2-3 times more than adults do when tobacco becomes more expensive.

In China, increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes by just 1 RMB ($0.16 USD) could:

  • reduce annual consumption from 125 billion packs to approximately 100 billion packs – a decrease of around 20 per cent;
  • generate additional tax revenue of more than 200 billion RMB ($30 billion USD) – an increase of more than 30 per cent.1

A tax increase of this size in China could save more than 3 million lives.2 Higher tax increases would lead to greater gains – in tobacco consumption reduced, and lives saved.

This is critical for China because cigarettes are not only cheap, but have become dramatically more affordable over time as average incomes have increased with China’s rapid economic growth and development:

  • in 2000, 14 per cent of annual per capita income was required to buy 100 packets of the cheapest cigarettes in China;
  • by 2010, the same number of packets of cigarettes could be purchased for just 3 per cent of average annual per capita income.3

WHO recommends that excise taxes represent at least 70 per cent of the retail price of cigarettes. In China, the rate is much lower than this, at approximately 40 per cent of the price.

The WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which came into force in China in 2006, recommends that countries increase tobacco taxes taking into account their national health objectives concerning tobacco control.

Global Youth Tobacco Survey results

To mark World No Tobacco Day, under the supervision of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention have released the first-ever data from the national Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS).

The vast majority of smokers take up the habit while they are still teenagers. The GYTS data highlight the urgent need to enact policies that prevent today’s youth from becoming tomorrow’s tobacco consumers:

  • nearly three-quarters of students were exposed to toxic second-hand smoke at home or in public places, and more than half of all students reported exposure to second-hand smoke at school, highlighting the urgent need for effective smoke-free laws and policies which protect young people from the toxic smoke of others;
  • nearly half of students have been exposed to tobacco advertisements or promotions. Given that tobacco marketing is often targeted at young people with the purpose of hooking them to tobacco while they are young, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco marketing to protect young people from the hazards of a lifetime of addiction to tobacco.

Full implementation of these and other policy measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is needed to protect China’s young people from the deadly harms of tobacco use.

About the World Health Organization

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

About World No Tobacco Day

On 31 May every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) marks World No Tobacco Day, a day to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocate for policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death globally, currently responsible for approximately 6 million deaths each year. In China, approximately one million deaths every year are caused by tobacco.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2014: Raise taxes on tobacco.

For more information please contact:

Ms LIU Shujun
E-mail: liush@wpro.who.int
Office Tel: +86 10 6532 7191

1. Source: unpublished WHO modelling.
2. Source: Teh-wei Hu et al, ‘The role of taxation in tobacco control and its potential economic impact in China’, Tobacco Control, 2010.
3. M. Eriksen, J. Mackay, H. Ross, The Tobacco Atlas – 4th Edition, World Lung Foundation & American Cancer Society, 2012.