Raising tobacco taxes linked with a lower number of infant deaths

A summary of research published in PLOS Global Public Health

Raising taxes on tobacco cigarettes has been linked with a lower number of newborn and infant deaths, according to a new study.

The risk of newborn and infant death is increased when pregnant people smoke or when babies are exposed to second-hand smoke. Raising taxes has been shown to be an effective strategy for reducing tobacco use and reducing these health risks. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a tobacco tax of 75% or more. This would mean that at least 75% (or three quarters) of the cost of a packet of cigarettes is tax. This would increase the price of tobacco, making it expensive to buy.


What did the study look at?

This new study looked at the data from countries where there is a high tobacco tax to see how this affected infant death rates.

Researchers studied tobacco tax information and infant and newborn death rates from 159 countries between the years 2008 and 2018. They also collected information on other factors such as the wealth of the countries, fertility rates, education and access to drinking water.

What do the results show?

The findings suggest that when countries introduce higher taxes on tobacco cigarettes, there is also a reduction in newborn and infant death rates. Based on these results, researchers estimate that a global increase of 10% in cigarette tax across the world could have prevented 77,946 infant deaths and 64,177 newborn deaths in 2018.

A rise of 10% would mean that tax on a packet of cigarettes increases from 65% to 75% of the retail price. As the tax rises, the price of cigarettes also rises, meaning they are less affordable and smoking rates decrease.

The results suggest that the biggest benefits were seen in countries with lower incomes.

Why is this important?

This type of study is not able to prove that taxes on tobacco will directly reduce the number of infant deaths. However, it shows a link between the two factors, which suggests that there are some health benefits of taxes on tobacco. The authors believe that it is likely that we see these benefits because higher taxes mean more expensive cigarettes. This may lead to fewer people smoking when pregnant and fewer babies being exposed to second-hand smoke once they are born.

The authors add: “We know that tobacco smoking continues to kill more than 8 million people per year, and that increasing taxes on tobacco is an effective way to bring this number down. This study highlights that if everywhere taxed tobacco at the levels recommended by the World Health Organization, we would substantially reduce neonatal [newborn] and infant deaths.”

Further information

Original research paper

Title: Cigarette taxation and neonatal and infant mortality: A longitudinal analysis of 159 countries

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