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Tax is key to reducing smoking

Tripling tobacco taxes around the world could cut smoking by a third and prevent 200 million premature deaths by the end of this century, researchers claim.

The tax boost would encourage people to quit smoking rather than switch from more expensive to cheaper brands, and help to stop young people taking up the habit, say the scientists.

They came to the conclusion after conducting a systematic review of 63 studies on the causes and consequences of tobacco use in different countries.

Research has shown that a 50% higher inflation-adjusted price for cigarettes reduces tobacco consumption by about a fifth, with the biggest impact on the young and poor.

In most high-income countries, about 50% to 60% of the price of a pack of cigarettes is tax. But in most low and middle-income countries, tax makes up only 30% to 40% of the cost.

Study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, from the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths. It would help children not to start, and many adults to stop while there's still time.

In the European Union, a doubling of cigarette prices would prevent 100,000 deaths a year in the under 70s, he added. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "This immensely important study demonstrates that tobacco taxes are a hugely powerful lever, and potentially a triple win: reducing the numbers of people who smoke and who die from their addiction; reducing the health care burden and costs associated with smoking; and at the same time, increasing government income."

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