A Call for Action: Responding to the Tobacco Epidemic and the Price of Cigarettes

Posted on by Samira Asma, DDS, MPH - Chief, CDC Global Tobacco Control Branch

Woman smoking tobacco

“Raising taxes to increase the price of tobacco products is the most effective means to reduce tobacco use and encourage smokers to quit.” – WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2013

Samira Asma, DDS, MPH - Chief, CDC Global Tobacco Control Branch
Samira Asma, DDS, MPH - Chief, CDC Global Tobacco Control Branch

Real People, Real Stories

Mehmet Nuhoğlu started smoking when he was in middle school at the age of 12 after hearing that real men smoke. Little did he know that 45 years later his two pack a day addiction would lead to a heart attack and then cancer. “I never thought it would happen to me. I still can’t believe it,” he says.

Featured in national ads similar to the US Tips campaign, Mehmet was one of the real-life people featured in Turkey’s anti-tobacco mass media campaign that was launched in the later part of 2011. He tells of his experience with cigarettes and what daily smoking ended up costing him- his voice and his health. Now speaking with the help of an electrolarynx (a device that helps users who have lost their voice box produce clearer speech), he confesses that he regrets smoking.

Mehmet is only one example of millions who have suffered from the harmful and life-altering consequences of tobacco use. Tobacco is now the world’s single leading cause of death, killing approximately 6 million people annually worldwide, and this figure is expected to rise to 8 million deaths per year by 2030 if no action is taken. Although tobacco use has decreased in the U.S and other high-income countries, the tobacco epidemic is rapidly spreading to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These growing countries are unable to sustain their economic development due to the emerging burden of tobacco, resulting in productivity losses and increasing health care costs.

Strategic Solutions

With the support of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and MPOWER measures, governments are armed with a legally binding treaty and demand-reducing tools to combat the tobacco epidemic. Specifically, the MPOWER measures outline six evidence-based interventions that reduce the demand, in other words the users’ desire, for tobacco.

"MPOWER": Monitor tobacco use and prevention guidelines. Protect people from tobacco smoke. Offer help to quit tobacco use. Warn about the dangers of tobacco. Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, & sponsorship. Raise taxes on tobacco.

Raising taxes and the price on tobacco makes cigarettes and other tobacco products less affordable, something especially important for vulnerable populations in LMICs such as youth and the poor. Taxation has been hailed as the most effective method to reduce tobacco use, motivate smokers to quit, and prevent youth from starting to smoke. Findings from the latest WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2013 highlight how, “An increase in the retail price of cigarettes by 10% will reduce consumption in high-income countries by about 4% and in low- and middle-income countries by up to 8%; smoking prevalence is usually decreased by about half those rates.” Translation─ Taxes that increase the price of tobacco products prove to:
  • Decrease tobacco use,
  • Lower smoking rates by increasing the number of those who quit,
  • Have the largest impact in LMICs, and
  • Generate a stream of revenue for governments. These funds can be earmarked and used for tobacco control programs and interventions.

Lessons learned from LMICs tax policy examples, like Costa Rica, Mexico, Philippines and Turkey, can be used to inform and guide decision makers in other LMICs through similar policy and economic situations.

A Call for Action

This year’s World No Tobacco Day centers on encouraging countries to prioritize appropriate levels of tobacco taxation as a means to decrease use, thus protecting present and future generations from the harms of tobacco. Tobacco taxation is inexpensive, highly cost-effective, and has a significant public health impact. People like Mehmet serve as tangible reminders of the realities of tobacco use. Let’s not dismiss the value of these individuals’ contributions to their communities and society by failing to act with urgency. By doing all that we can to support protective measures that discourage tobacco use, like tobacco taxation, more lives will be saved from the deadly consequences of tobacco use.


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Posted on by Samira Asma, DDS, MPH - Chief, CDC Global Tobacco Control BranchTags , , ,

One comment on “A Call for Action: Responding to the Tobacco Epidemic and the Price of Cigarettes”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    As a nurse, I face challenges educating my patients on smoking cessation and the dangers of tobacco use. I am aware of the domestic and global problem associated with tobacco use and the implications of cardiovascular disease. Continued education and prevention programs play a major role in reducing smoking but plans to ban tobacco use may prove to be a mistake.
    There is evidence to support the difficulties encountered by healthcare professionals worldwide, to reduce tobacco use. Despite the million-dollar budget for anti-smoking campaign commercials, health–related ads, and educational programs, tobacco companies are a big contributor to political campaigns. In fact, tobacco companies create thousands of jobs across America. Most surprisingly is the fact that tobacco farms receive a special, low interest loan from the government that helps them grow tobacco. Quite simply, tobacco brings money to this country.
    Anyone who smokes understands the dangers but considers smoking a personal choice. Educational programs, higher taxes on tobacco products, insurance disparities, cardiovascular disease, etc. stops only those who want to stop. Banning tobacco products, on the other hand, may increase crime rates, prison populations, illegal use, increased black market sales. Furthermore, if tobacco is banned, the government will not be able to regulate it.

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Page last reviewed: May 11, 2021
Page last updated: May 11, 2021
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