World No Tobacco Day highlights call for higher tobacco taxes

May 29 2014

SITKA – On World No Tobacco Day, May 31, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on countries, states and local communities to raise taxes on tobacco, estimating that an increase in tobacco taxes by 50 percent worldwide would reduce the number of smokers by 49 million within the next three years and ultimately save 11 million lives.

Tobacco kills up to half of its users. It also incurs considerable costs for families, businesses and governments. Treating tobacco-related diseases like cancer and heart disease is expensive — Alaska spent over $327 million in fiscal year 2013. And as tobacco-related disease and death often strikes people in the prime of their working lives, productivity and incomes fall — Alaska saw $236 million in lost productivity in fiscal year 2013.

“Price increases are 2 to 3 times more effective in reducing tobacco use among young people than among older adults,” said Dr. Ward Hurlburt, Alaska’s chief medical officer. “As tobacco taxes go up, death and disease go down.”

Local cigarette and tobacco taxes bring in about half a billion dollars in annual revenue and work effectively to reduce smoking rates, especially among youth. Alaska has a $2.00 per pack tax on cigarettes, and some individual communities place an additional tax on tobacco products.

According to the WHO, high prices are particularly effective in discouraging young people (who often have more limited incomes than older adults) from taking up smoking. They also encourage existing young smokers to either reduce their use of tobacco or quit altogether.

The general consensus is that every 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes:

• reduces overall cigarette consumption by approximately three to five percent,
• reduces the number of young-adult smokers by 3.5 percent
• reduces the number of kids who smoke by six or seven percent

"For our communities in Southeast Alaska it is a win-win,” says Martha Pearson, SEARHC Health Promotion Director, "when prices are higher, adults are more likely to quit and youth are less likely to start."