Taxing Cigarettes Save More Lives Than Smoking Bans, Says Global Study

Tax Rises On Cigarettes Save More Lives Than Smoking Bans, Says Global Study
closeup of cigarette on ashtray
closeup of cigarette on ashtray

It seems a lifetime ago that people were allowed to smoke inside bars and restaurants, and while the measure is effective, it seems tax rises on cigarettes save more lives than smoking bans. According to a global study, tobacco control measures avert seven million deaths by 2050.

Scientists looked at the effects of six anti-smoking policies introduced in 41 countries, excluding the UK, between 2007 and 2010.

Projections of the number of premature deaths the measures were likely to prevent by 2050 produced a figure of 7.4 million.

Increasing taxes on cigarettes to 75% of their price in 14 regions had the biggest impact, which was greater than legal smoking bans.

Tax rises prevented 3.5 million smoking-related deaths while "smoke-free air laws" in 20 of the countries studied averted 2.5 million.

Lead researcher Professor David Levy, from Georgetown University Medical Centre in Washington, US, said: "It's a spectacular finding that by implementing these simple tobacco control policies governments can save so many lives."

The evidence-based measures, known by the acronym MPOWER, were identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2008.

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They consist of monitoring tobacco use, protecting people from tobacco smoke, warning about the dangers of tobacco, enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raising tobacco taxes.

The study targeted 41 countries known to have implemented at least one of the policies at the highest impact level. In 2007, almost 290 million people living in the countries smoked.

The UK, US, France and Germany were not in the list which included countries in Africa, Asia, South America and eastern Europe.

Of the total, 33 countries had put in place one of the measures and eight had adopted more than one.

Computer modelling was used to predict the life-saving potential of the policies.

Turkey was one of the countries most affected by anti-smoking policies. There, tax rises alone were predicted to save more than 1.5 million lives and smoking bans around 880,000.

The findings, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, also forecast a total of 700,000 deaths averted by health warnings, 380,000 by cessation treatments, and 306,000 by restrictions on tobacco marketing.

Prof Levy added: "In addition to some 7.4 million lives saved, the tobacco control policies we examined can lead to other health benefits such as fewer adverse birth outcomes related to maternal smoking, including low birth weight, and reduced healthcare costs and less loss of productivity due to less smoking-related disease."

Millions more lives could be saved if the control measures were adopted even more widely, according to Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of the department of non-communicable diseases at the WHO.

"Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world, with six million smoking-attributable deaths per year today, and these deaths are projected to rise to eight million a year by 2030, if current trends continue," he said. "By taking the right measures, this tobacco epidemic can be entirely prevented."

A ban on smoking in work and public places came into force in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland in 2006. England followed suit the following year.

Russia became the latest country to introduce public place smoking bans on June 1.

Need help quitting smoking? Visit the NHS website.