The World Health Organization and World Bank want governments around the world — especially in developing countries — to act as nanny’s and raise taxes on cigarettes by at least 10 percent to discourage people from smoking. A study commissioned by the two organizations, “Tobacco Control in Developing Countries,” claims about 42 million smokers would kick the habit if taxes were raised by 10 percent.
The WHO/World Bank is especially imperious when it comes to smokers in the developing world, with the authors of the report nothing that since people in the developing world generally have less money, the tax would hit them especially hard and provide a big incentive to stop smoking. As the spokesman for British American Tobacco told the BBC, however, a more likely result would be widespread smuggling of cigarettes. Smuggling and underground economies are already a staple in developing countries (and more power to them), and adding another highly taxed good to the mix would only encourage more smuggling.
Ultimately, though, as the study puts it the whole point here is control. The WHO thinks people shouldn’t smoke and it is more than willing to use the power of the state to enforce their views about personal behavior.
An amusing twist to the story was added by Prabhat Jha, co-author of the study, trying to defend against claims by the tobacco industry that raising cigarette taxes would cost jobs. Jha told the BBC, “As people don’t spend money on cigarettes, they will spend money on other goods. They will buy popcorn, they go the movies. These generate alternative jobs and also alternative revenues.”
The only problem with that picture, aside from using the threat of state-sanction forced to arrive at it, is that the WHO has also been going on over the past couple years about obesity, and it is just a matter of time before it starts to recommend higher taxes on fattening foods like popcorn and sedentary activities like watching movies. After all if we had higher taxes on those, people would spend more time eating granola and jogging on the beach.
The PR flack for the tobacco companies, Dave Betteridge, got it right when he told the BBC, “It should be for adults only, but provided that you are aware of the health risks — and it is hard to think that there are people who are not aware of these — if you want to smoke then you should be free to smoke.”
Global plea to raise smoking taxes. The BBC, August 9, 2000