Luka Solmajer, a tobacco control advocate and pharmacist from Slovenia shares his views on why the economic aspects of tobacco control need urgent action.
In the year 2010 over 5,000,000 people died because they were addicted to tobacco products. They lost on average 9 years of life and several more years of good health and active life, so – one would think – there should be very clear, strong economic measures on hand to fight this plague.
When we define smoking as an activity rarely done voluntarily with devastating health effects, we should ask ourselves, how could it be that this product still remains so profitable for the producers and sellers? Is the WHO FCTC covering the economic aspects of tobacco control in an effective way? As a framework convention, the purpose is to encourage countries to cooperate, confirm a lowest common denominator and then step by step move in a positive direction. However, even a country that has ratified the agreement and has relatively good legislation may experience stalled progress in decreasing smoking prevalence or worse, see increases in smoking rates.
What could guarantee further progress better than to economically discourage the production and sales of tobacco products?
I think a simple measure is available: any country in the world that wants to tackle the smoking problem seriously and efficiently needs to prioritise decreasing the profitability of production and sales of tobacco products to the maximum feasible extent. This can be done by forcing the purveyors of this harmful addiction to pay for the loss of life, the higher health care costs, and loss of work associated with their product. It can be done by implementing incredibly high taxes on tobacco industry profits. The state must take >90% of the industry’s declared profits and put the money back into health and social services in order to compensate for the great loss of life and harm done by tobacco products. For far too long the tobacco industry has profited from addicting, disabling and killing people and it has used the money to influence politicians and lawmakers to its advantage.
Tobacco production and selling should not be profitable due to the high damage to the people and the state.
What could happen if a country decided to do as specified above and really make tobacco unprofitable? There would be huge opposition from the industry, but then the companies would stop their activities and go elsewhere, where they will still be able reap the profits. But once other countries do the same, they will have nowhere left to go. Millions of people will live longer and healthier lives.
I strongly believe this is the equivalent of making tobacco products illegal, without actually doing so. The only counterargument I can think of is the threat the toxic tobacco industry will make about the emergence of black markets and counterfeit cigarettes, but this is only a potential problem there are very effective measures to prevent it. And even if there would be a flourishing black market for cigarettes, it would never be as large and as a harmful as the present state.
What do you think? Will governments be willing to adopt such a system? Will it lead to fewer smokers?
Share your thoughts below in the comments section.