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May 31 is World No Tobacco Day, an annual awareness day created by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987 to highlight the fact that tobacco use is deadly and that there are effective policies that reduce consumption.

This year for World No Tobacco Day, WHO and its partners are calling on countries to raise taxes on tobacco. This is an action identified in the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report—The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress—to effectively and dramatically address tobacco use. A tax increase of only 10% has been shown to decrease consumption by 4%, and has been shown to decrease youth smoking by 7%.

Last July, Massachusetts increased the state excise tax on cigarettes by $1.00, an action that reduced the number of cigarette packs sold in Massachusetts by 35 million packs, a 16% drop in consumption over the previous year. This increase made an impact, but there is still work to be done.

As higher taxes drive down cigarettes’ popularity, the tobacco industry replaces them with new, less expensive products, including flavored cigars and disposable e-cigarettes. This tobacco industry strategy has been effective; high school students now smoke cigars at the same rate as cigarettes. E-cigarette use among young people has doubled in the last couple of years.

Both of these products use flashy packaging and widespread product placement to target young people. But their cheap prices are what really make them desirable and accessible to youth. When the cigarette tax went into place in June, the cigar tax was also increased, but by only a few pennies per cigar, not nearly enough to make an impact. E-cigarettes have no excise tax at all. As long as tobacco products go untaxed, they will be accessible and attractive to young people.

We have made great progress in Massachusetts in reducing tobacco use, but the battle is not yet over for cigarettes or other tobacco products. But with a focus on proven strategies and a comprehensive approach to the problem, we are on track to win the battle in the end.

 

By Heather Wise, Health Communication Specialist in the Division of Prevention and Wellness at the Department of Public Health

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Ted works in communications for the Division of Prevention and Wellness at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

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