LONDON (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) approved guidelines on Wednesday urging countries to increase cigarette taxes to help discourage smoking.
The guidelines, which leave it to individual countries to determine their own tax rates, were adopted by a conference of the parties to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty signed by 179 countries with the aim of reducing tobacco use and improving global health.
“Any policy to increase tobacco taxes that effectively increases real prices reduces tobacco use,” said the draft guidelines, noting that young people and others with lower disposable income were more responsive to tax and price changes.
The approval of the guidelines comes as more developing countries follow many richer nations in adopting more stringent measures to discourage smoking among their populations.
On Wednesday, India’s health ministry announced that tobacco companies must now stamp pictorial and text health warnings across 85 percent of the surface of cigarette packs on sale in the world’s second most populous country.
WHO has previously suggested a benchmark rate of 70 percent of the retail price of a pack of cigarettes as a target that would save lives, but in the new guidelines it stopped short of recommending a one-size-fits-all approach.
“There is no single optimal level of tobacco taxes that applies to all countries because of differences in tax systems, in geographical and economic circumstances and in national public health and fiscal objectives,” the guidelines said.
The guidelines also encouraged earmarking tax revenue for programs such as awareness-raising, health promotion and disease prevention to help curb tobacco use.
Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Gareth Jones