Cigarette tax hike could save millions of lives

A global policy change that discourages tobacco use could save more than 5 million smokers' lives at a reasonable cost, a new report on tobacco control policies estimates.

"Even with deliberately conservative assumptions, tax increases that would raise the real price of cigarettes by 10 percent worldwide would prevent between 5 million and 16 million tobacco-related deaths," says lead author M. Kent Ranson, M.D., Ph.D.

To put that figure in perspective, Ranson says cigarette tax increases could save an estimated 1 percent to 4 percent of lives that are expected to be lost to tobacco-related illness.

"Low-income and middle-income countries [would] account for about 90 percent of the averted deaths," Ranson reports. And because price increases hit younger smokers hardest, he adds, the greatest savings in lives would be among smokers currently between 15 and 29 years old.

Ranson and his colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of three types of tobacco control policies in terms of the number of tobacco-related deaths they could prevent and the public health cost of preventing those deaths. To do so, they applied the results of previous tobacco-cessation research to a worldwide model of smokers in 1995.

"In general, price increases are the most cost-effective anti-smoking intervention," the researchers report in Nicotine & Tobacco Research. The average cost to the public for saving a single year of human life would range, in U.S. dollars, between $12 and $313 globally. In low- and middle-income regions, the cost for a year of life could be as low as $3.

According to Ranson, this would make price increases as cost-effective as many health interventions already financed by governments. Child immunization, for example, costs approximately $25 per year of life saved, while each year gained using the most cost-effective intervention for reducing heart disease risk costs almost $500 for men and at least $1,760 for women.

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Contact: M. Kent Ranson
Center for the Advancement of Health

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