Spotlight on research
Cancer Research UK is the largest independent funder of cancer research in the world. Find out more about how we're beating cancer sooner on a global scale.
We fund research that will persuade policy makers of the health and economic benefits that will result from tax measures and other policies that reduce tobacco consumption.
Here are some examples of research that we are currently funding and what we hope to achieve.
Smoking in Colombia
Every year, more than 26,000 Colombians are killed by diseases caused by smoking. The cost of treating these diseases, and the wider cost of illnesses caused by smoking, is estimated to cost US$2.14bn in direct medical costs to the Colombian health system. This includes $839.2m in costs from heart diseases caused by smoking, $407.2m in costs from cancers, and $248.0m from passive smoking.
There is ample room to increase tobacco tax in Colombia. The country has among the lowest ratio of money raised from taxing tobacco, compared to its annual health expenditure, of any country in Latin America.
- Tobacco Atlas. (2018). Colombia. http://www.tobaccoatlas.org/country-data/colombia/
- Pichon-Riviere A, Bardach A, Augustovski F, Alcaraz A, Reynales-Shigematsu L et al. (2016). Rev Panam Salud Publica. 40(4): 1-9. Available at: http://iris.paho.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/31302/v40n4a05-eng.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y
Tobacco tax in Colombia
The World Health Organisation estimates the amount of tax on cigarette packs should be at least 70% of the retail price for the most commonly sold pack. The level of tobacco tax in Colombia remains far below this level. Since 2008, cigarettes have become more affordable relative to disposable income. One analysis estimates this may in part be due to strong GDP growth, with economic development increasing household purchasing power. To address cigarettes becoming more affordable, new taxes on tobacco products were introduced in 2016. These taxes will nearly triple prices over 2017/18, and there are plans to continue to increase taxes in line with inflation in future years.
Maldonado N, Llorente B, Deaza J. (2016). Cigarette taxes and demand in Colombia. Rev Panam Salud Publica. 40(4): 229-236. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28001198
How we are helping Colombia
Together with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK are funding a research project to understand whether the tax increases will have any effect on levels of illicit trade in tobacco in Colombia.
Smoking in Bangladesh
Every year, more than 92,000 Bangladeshis are killed by tobacco-related diseases. Tobacco is the biggest risk factor of non-communicable diseases (NCD), and six in ten Bangladeshis who develop an NCD die before the age of 70, losing valuable years of life.
The revenue of the world’s six largest tobacco companies was US $342 billion in 2013 - more than the entire GDP of Bangladesh.
Despite having a competitive tax rate, there is an urgent need to reform tobacco taxes in Bangladesh. Every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes would reduce smoking prevalence by around 5% in Bangladesh, and 7.5% among lower socio-economic groups. This is considerably higher than in developed countries, which would expect a fall in prevalence of only around 4%.
Tobacco Atlas. (2018). Bangladesh. http://www.tobaccoatlas.org/country-data/bangladesh/
Thakur J, Garg R, Nahrain J, Menabde N. (2011). Tobacco use: a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases in South East Asia. Indian J Public Health. 55(3):155-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22089682
Tobacco Atlas Country pages.
Nargis N, Ruthbah U, Ghulam Hussain A et al. (2014).The price sensitivity of cigarette consumption in Bangladesh: evidence from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Bangladesh Wave 1 (2009) and Wave 2 (2010) Surveys. Tobacco Control. 23:i39-i47. http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/23/suppl_1/i39
Tobacco tax in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has made real progress in taxing tobacco. The proportion of a cigarette pack being tax has doubled in recent years, from 38% in 2009 to 77% in 2016. Since 2008, cigarettes have become less affordable relative to disposable income. However, tobacco is taxed on a tiered system, meaning different rates of tax apply to different cigarette products. Unless the tax is highest on the cheapest cigarette packs, this is not considered the best way to tax tobacco, as it makes it more likely that smokers can shift to cheaper brands in response to price increases.
How we are helping Bangladesh
In partnership with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK are funding a research project to measure the economic cost of tobacco use in Bangladesh. The research will be used to raise awareness of government decision makers of the economic and health burden related to smoking.
Illicit trade in tobacco
The illicit tobacco trade undermines the potential of increased taxes on tobacco to reduce consumption. It also costs governments some $40 to $50 billion annually in lost revenue. In low- and middle-income countries, half of cigarettes are thought to come from illicit sources. The supply of smuggled, cheap cigarettes (roughly half the price of duty-paid premium brand cigarettes in most cases) reduces the effectiveness of government attempts to make the products unaffordable by increasing excise taxes. Cheap cigarettes mean that it’s more likely that young people will start smoking and that existing smokers will continue to smoke.
How we are helping tackle illicit trade in tobacco
The tobacco industry lobbies governments against tax increases on the grounds that an increase in taxation also leads to increases illicit trade, and to a loss of revenue. However, to date, there is no conclusive evidence showing that increases in tobacco taxation directly cause increases in illicit trade. Providing objective evidence on this subject is critical for informed policy making, especially in low income countries where data tends to be limited. Cancer Research UK is supporting the University of Cape Town in South Africa to analyse the impact of increased tobacco product taxation on illicit cigarette trade in four countries - Mongolia, Georgia, the Gambia and South Africa. Not only will this innovative multi-country research contribute to the global evidence base, it will also build capacity and skills among researchers so they are able to continue to monitor illicit trade after the project.
Researcher of the month: Corne van Walbeek
Corné is a Professor in Economics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. His research is on the economics of tobacco control, and in particular how changes in the excise tax on tobacco can affect smoking. His research has focused on estimating price elasticities of demand, the importance of the tax structure on the effectiveness of the excise tax, the tobacco industry’s reaction to tax increases, and changes in different demographic groups' smoking patterns over time. Corne heads up the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub, which CRUK is supporting.