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Tobacconomics Scorecard Shines a Light on the Untapped Potential Cigarette Tax Policies

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Tobacco Taxes, COVID-19 and Economic Recovery

Researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago’s (UIC) Institute for Health Research and Policy today launched the first edition of the international Cigarette Tax Scorecard at the 18th World Conference on Tobacco or Health webinar: Fiscal strategies for financing health services in pandemic times: the case for tobacco tax. The webinar is the latest in a series being held ahead of next year's Leadership Summit on Tobacco Control.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world and tobacco taxation is the single best tool to drive down consumption. And, with countries reeling under budget gaps resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, reforming tobacco taxes provides a quick and easy way for governments to raise much needed revenue for economic recovery.

The Cigarette Tax Scorecard assesses the performance of cigarette tax policies in over 170 countries, and it suggests that most countries are failing to effectively tax cigarettes.

The top performing countries are Australia and New Zealand, which reflects their high, uniform specific cigarette excise taxes with regular increases that have significantly reduced the affordability of cigarettes. Using purchasing power parity dollars to compare price across countries, cigarettes in Australia were an average of $ PPP 14.47 per pack in 2018, while in New Zealand, they were $ PPP 16.08 per pack.

Countries with the greatest improvement in cigarette tax policy over the six-year period (2014-2018) are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines. The improvements in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates reflect the introduction of significant cigarette excise taxes, while those in Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines result from the simplification of previously complicated tiered cigarette excise tax structures and large tax increases. These countries are already reaping the rewards of higher revenues and lives saved.

The region with the highest performing cigarette tax policies is Europe. Nevertheless, the region scored just over half of the possible score—what most would deem a failing grade.

The Tobacconomics Scorecard assesses countries’ cigarette tax policies based on international best practice using data from the World Health Organization. Nearly half scored less than two out of the five-point maximum. There has been little improvement over the past six years: the global average score rose only slightly from 1.85 in 2014 to 2.07 in 2018. Although overall scores improved in 89 countries, they became worse in 43 countries.

Join next year's Leadership Summit on Tobacco Control for continued information about developments in tobacco control.