In the past, the United States has been a leader in tobacco control. For the last 15 years, though, the U.S. has been falling behind as other countries have moved to protect their people from tobacco addiction and death.
For example, when it comes to tobacco prices, there are huge inconsistencies in America. The average cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes in the United States is $6.36, but this varies widely by state. A pack of Marlboro’s costs $10.08 in New York, but only $4.20 in Georgia. See more about state tobacco taxes>.
There is a direct correlation between the price of cigarettes and willingness of children to take up the habit.
The 2014 Surgeon General’s report called for an increase in cigarette prices to at least $10 a pack. Only one state, New York, currently meets that goal. The World Bank recommends that at least 67% of the retail price of tobacco products comes from taxes. Even the highest taxes in the U.S., in New York City and Chicago, do not reach that goal. Taxes in those cities are about 65%, but the average in the U.S. is 44.2%. Read more here>
This issue is so important that the World Health Organization chose to focus on it for World No Tobacco Day 2014. Increasing the price of tobacco products is the single most effective way to prevent initiation among nonsmokers and to reduce consumption.
On average, raising tobacco taxes to increase retail prices by 10% is estimated to reduce tobacco use by 4% in high-income countries and by about 5% in low- and middle-income countries. WHO calculates that if all countries increased taxes on cigarette packs by 50%, there would be 49 million fewer smokers (38 million fewer adult smokers and 11 million fewer young future smokers), and this would avert 11 million deaths from smoking. To learn more read the WHO brochure on Tobacco Taxes>
The United States should learn from the best practices on tobacco taxes in other countries. In London, a pack of Marlboro’s costs $14. In Norway, it costs $15.11. In Australia, within the next five years, it will cost about $20 to buy a pack of cigarettes. The U.S. is lagging behind on tobacco taxes. See more about international tobacco taxes in the Tobacco Atlas>
This is an area where states and localities can take action – each government is responsible for the health of its citizens and should do its best to protect against the harms of tobacco. In order to meet the goals set out in the Surgeon General’s report and by the World Bank, and more importantly, in order to save lives, the United States should learn from international best practices and implement higher tobacco taxes.
To read more about the lessons U.S. states can learn from international best practices on tobacco control, please read our new report: The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: An Implementation Guide for U.S. State and Local Officials.
State and local officials interested in sample legislation and other tools can also visit our database at https://ash.org/usfctcimplementationguide/.