Q: In a nutshell, what is the PREVENT20 campaign about?
A: The name PREVENT20 refers to preventing 20% of all cancer deaths that are related to tobacco use. This campaign is an invitation to join a global effort of cancer organizations to remind our citizens and governments of the importance and cost-effectiveness of higher tobacco taxes for preventing cancer deaths and disease. We cannot overlook the obvious: the tobacco industry works tirelessly to convince governments that raising tobacco taxes is bad for the economy. We will use our trusted voices to counter this false information. Cancer organizations can spread the word about why we should all be excited about higher tobacco taxes: because reducing the affordability of such a harmful product is crucial to avoid the suffering from a disease we know all too well.
Q: Why do we need a campaign on tobacco taxation at this particular time?
A: WHO member countries have agreed to a target of reducing smoking prevalence by 30% by the year 2025. At the present time, however, the vast majority of countries around the world have not yet raised the tax on tobacco products high enough to meet that target and the clock is ticking. Worldwide attention on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is another impetus for launching a tax campaign right now. We want to leverage the motivation of governments around the world to meet the above-mentioned WHO target and thereby contribute to reaching the SDG goal of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by one-third by the year 2030. Tobacco use is one of the most important reasons for the rise of chronic diseases worldwide. Reducing premature mortality from these diseases will be unattainable unless there is a worldwide reduction in smoking. Public health experts recognize that the single most cost-effective way to do so is to raise the tax on tobacco products to make them less affordable for both youth and adults.
Q: Why are cancer organizations specifically targeted to be engaged in this campaign?
A: Cancer organizations have a respected voice and garner much influence in our respective countries and globally. We therefore have a unique role to play as a driving force for influencing public opinion and government action on both cancer and tobacco control. We regularly witness the plight of families devastated by cancer and are committed to doing everything we can to reduce the death and disease attributable to tobacco use. We are also committed to making sure that young people do not take up the habit so that we can prevent tobacco-related cancer from ever occurring among them. The public trusts our recommendations and they know that the evidence-based policies we endorse are informed, for the common good, and contribute to a world with less cancer.
Q: My organization is already a member of the national tobacco control coalition in my country. Why should we get involved in this separate effort?
A: That’s fantastic – your participation in the national coalition is vitally important! We’d love for you to tell members of your coalition about this global movement of cancer organizations, which is meant to supplement, not supplant, existing national tobacco control efforts. We think it’s important that cancer organizations take a leadership role at this time and clearly tell the world that higher tobacco taxes WILL prevent cancer. We also benefit from our own extensive networks of respected opinion leaders: clinicians, journalists, philanthropists, decision-makers, etc. With this campaign, we’re counting on those traits that make cancer organizations unique among voluntary health organizations to catch the attention of the public and government officials and shine the spotlight on the indelible link between cancer prevention and tobacco control through higher tobacco taxes.
Q: Remind me again, why are taxes so effective at reducing smoking prevalence?
A: It is widely acknowledged that among all policy options available to government, increasing the tax on cigarettes is the single most cost-effective measure for preventing and reducing smoking. This is because price plays a pivotal role in people’s decisions to smoke –the less affordable cigarettes are, the less they will be consumed. In fact, an overwhelming body of evidence confirms that a 10% increase in cigarette price causes smoking rates to fall between 4% and 8% on average. Higher prices influence the demand for cigarettes in two ways: by influencing current smokers to quit or smoke less, and by preventing nonsmokers from ever starting. In addition, increasing the tax on cigarettes is an appealing measure for governments since higher taxes not only protect the public’s health but also increase government revenue, which can in turn to be allocated to support public health programs, like cancer screening and treatment. Unfortunately, governments all too often fail to appreciate this. By participating in this coalition, you can help them understand the win-win nature of this policy measure for both public health and government revenue, using simple language that they can understand.
Q: What does my organization need to do as part of this campaign?
A: To start, all we ask is that you take three simple steps to: 1. Allow us to display your organization’s logo on the PREVENT20 website; 2. Identify a point person within your organization; and 3. Fill in a brief survey to give us an idea of what type of support you would like to receive from our coalition. The final question in the survey asks you to identify up to three other cancer organizations that we can contact about joining our coalition. Throughout this campaign, we will provide helpful resources and tools so that all members can feel confident in raising their voices in support of higher tobacco taxes to prevent cancer. You can sign up at the bottom of the page to receive more information about being part of this campaign.
Q: We don’t have economists on our staff. Will we be able to talk about taxation?
A: You don’t have to be an economist or have an economist on staff to join the movement. In fact, we think it’s important that the general public and government officials hear about this issue from people like us who are not technical experts. We know that talking about tobacco taxes can be daunting, but the key messages that we need to get across as cancer organizations are few and simple. Our campaign resources will be deliberately designed in such a way as to make this topic relatable. And if in doubt, let us know! There are several technical experts in the coalition who can help if the need arises.
Q: What about illicit trade? This is the topic that dominates the conversation when we start talking about tobacco taxes in my country.
A: Many governments are swayed by the arguments of the tobacco industry that increasing cigarette taxes will encourage the creation of tobacco black markets that are outside the reach of the tax department. We actually know that much of the research linking illicit tobacco trade with tax increases is backed by the tobacco industry. Growing evidence suggests that these industry-commissioned studies overstate the illicit cigarette trade problem. Our coalition will be developing simple counter-arguments that you can use when discussing this issue.
Q: How do higher tobacco taxes help countries get closer to meeting their smoking prevalence reduction target and SDG commitment to reduce premature mortality from NCDs?
A: The SDGs are the first development goals at the international level that explicitly include a target on NCDs. As a result, countries have committed to reducing premature mortality from NCDs by one-third by 2030. Tobacco use is a key risk factor that greatly contributes to the NCD burden, and countries have also committed to meeting the WHO’s target of reducing smoking prevalence by 30% by 2025. But commitments are not enough without action: higher tobacco taxes to reduce and prevent tobacco use must be at the center of in-country strategies.
Q: Do we know by how much tobacco taxes need to be raised to reduce smoking prevalence by 30% by 2025 and get countries closer to meeting the SDG goal on NCDs?
A: Yes! The optimum taxation level will vary from country to country. We can use a number of data points to estimate by how much tobacco taxes should be increased to reduce smoking prevalence by 30% by 2025, if we only relied on tobacco taxation to reach that target. We can also estimate how much additional government revenue could be generated by increasing taxes to the optimal rate. As part of this campaign, we will be able to share a factsheet with data specific to your country.