UNITED NATIONS, New York: Low and middle-income countries have far fewer tobacco regulations than high-income countries and are paying the price—with bigger health and economic impacts, a wide-ranging research study by the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
According to the research published by the WHO last month, tobacco companies are misleading governments, telling them that tobacco regulations will potentially harm their economies.
The research was compiled in a monograph, “The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control,” published jointly by the WHO and the National Cancer Institute of the US-based National Institutes of Health.
Frank Chaloupka, who edited the monograph, told IPS that when low- and middle-income countries do implement regulations, there is usually a much bigger pay off.
“We present some new evidence in the monograph on tobacco advertising bans that shows they have a bigger effect in low- and middle-income countries than they do in high-income countries,” said Chaloupka, who is also Distinguished Professor of Economics and Public Health at the University of Illinois.
“I think it’s partly because of the fact that in a lot of low- and middle-income countries they haven’t been exposed to the same information about the health consequences of tobacco use, people are more susceptible to the industry(’s positive) portrayals of tobacco,” noted Chaloupka.
For example, said Chaloupka, graphic warning labels have proven more effective in low- and middle-income countries.
“People can really see the damage caused by tobacco through the graphic warnings.” For those who have had less exposure to these warnings from other sources of information, the warnings have an even bigger impact.
Taxes on tobacco sales in low and middle countries also have a bigger impact than in high-income countries, Chaloupka added.
“Given people’s lower incomes, people are more responsive to changes in the price,” he said.
There are several reasons why low- and middle-income countries have less tobacco regulations than high-income countries, said Chaloupka, but one problematic cause is misleading arguments made by the industry.
“The industry’s arguments around things like illicit trade, impact on jobs and the broader economic impact, the impact on the poor, the impact on their tax revenues, really the economic arguments that the industry uses against tobacco control are really misleading, and for the most part, false,” he said.
“We’ve seen governments get serious and really take action, and adopt strong tobacco control measures, push up taxes, ban smoking in public places, ban tobacco marketing as a result we’ve seen tobacco use falling for at least a few decades in most high-income countries,” he added.
PH single-tier tax better
While some low and middle-income countries may lack the capacity to implement complex regulations, Chaloupka noted that simpler policies could be more effective.
“The Philippines (had) a complicated tax system where we had different rates on different brands,” he said. “Over time they moved toward a significant reform in their system and they’re in the process of moving to a single uniform tax which is a lot easier to administer and much better at deterring tax avoidance and tax evasion.” IPS