Health Minister Evaluates WHO Director General’s call for Heavy Taxation of Tobacco Industry

Geneva, Switzerland – Minister of Health, Dr. the Honourable Christopher Tufton will, along with his Ministry of Health and stakeholders,  evaluate the WHO’s call for heavy taxation of the tobacco industry. This follows Director-General of the World Health Organization, WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan’s, call to countries to increase tobacco related taxes as one way of controlling the use of the product. Mindful of the direct effects of tobacco on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Dr. Chan made the push while addressing the WHO’s Executive Board at its 140th Session this afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Tufton, who is in attendance at the session says that he paid special attention to the Director General’s comments on the global health challenges related to tobacco and its effects on NCDs.

Dr. Tufton said “We view with concern the cost of tobacco related illnesses and the associated cost to public health, globally and nationally. Any measures to discourage smoking and/or support public health is worth considering. We are guided by the WHO report and will discuss further within Government.” The Minister added that, “decision on tax increase on tobacco and its products would be a decision of the Government.”

The Director General based her call on a WHO/US National Cancer Institute landmark report on the economics of tobacco and tobacco control. The report concluded that smoking costs the global economy more than $1 trillion yearly and that smoking will soon kill more than 6 million people worldwide each year.

The report shows how tobacco control, including significant tax increases on tobacco products, can save lives while also generating revenues for health and development.

 The 700-page document noted that the economic losses caused by smoking far outweigh global revenue from tobacco taxes, estimated at nearly $270 billion in 2013-2014. The report says that if all countries raised cigarette taxes by about 80 cents per pack, annual tax revenues could increase by 47%, amounting to an additional $140 billion per year.

According to Dr. Chan, “Tobacco control makes good economic sense and does not harm economies. The evidence is abundant and compelling. It ought to put an end to one of the tobacco industry’s most frequent and effective arguments,” she said.

The WHO Head added that, “Ministers of health are convinced by the evidence. I ask you to be vocal in persuading ministers of finance, trade, foreign affairs, and others not to be swayed by the tobacco industry’s false claims.”

“It takes courage to issue reports that antagonize powerful economic operators. Economic power readily translates into political power. It falls to WHO to do this. If we fail to accept this responsibility, we will never make sufficient progress against lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases,” she added.

Dr. Tufton is attending the 140th WHO Executive Board Meeting which ends February 1, 2017. The main functions of the Executive Board are to implement the decisions and policies of the World Health Assembly, and advise and generally facilitate its work.