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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.4 Genebra Jan. 2002 

WHO News

Cigarettes are too cheap, study finds

Tobacco products are more affordable now than ever before in many developing countries, according to a new WHO study of 80 countries. The current projection is that over 70% of the 8.4 million tobacco deaths expected to occur in 2020 will be in developing countries. Countries in which tobacco control programmes are still weak and where tobacco prices have decreased in the last decade include Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire and Viet Nam. In richer countries with strong control programmes, cigarette prices tend to be higher. Australia, China and Norway are examples. However, in countries with high household incomes but no control programme, such as Japan and Switzerland, cigarettes are cheap.

In spite of strong international support for the increases in tobacco taxes advocated in studies by leading economists, WHO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the price of tobacco products has not kept pace with inflation: they are now more affordable than ever. "Increasing the price of tobacco products remains one of the most effective methods of curbing the consumption of tobacco, and thereby reducing the global deaths caused by tobacco," says Derek Yach, WHO's Executive Director for noncommunicable diseases and mental health. The tobacco industry shares this view: "Increases in taxation, which reduce consumption, may mean the destruction of the vitality of the tobacco industry," said a perhaps prophetic internal British American Tobacco internal document in 1992. More information can be obtained from Reshma Prakash at the Tobacco Free Initiative, email: