Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

WHO statement in response to the Business Standard news article "WHO imposes Rs 250-cr tobacco tax on India"

10 January 2012

In reference to recent articles published on WHO's supposed imposition of a tobacco tax on WHO Member States/countries (e.g., "WHO imposes Rs 250-cr tobacco tax on India"), a number of inaccurate statements are made about the World Health Organization (WHO), the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and WHO's collective work to control tobacco use around the world.

WHO does not have any mandate to impose taxes on its Member States, nor does the WHO FCTC, an international treaty to which India is a Party, envisages any such tax (solidarity tobacco tax) referred to in the article. Any statements to the contrary are false. WHO has no power of taxation, and no control over Member States.

Quite distinct from the WHO FCTC, there has been another, separate global discussion about financing health care in which the concept of a tax levied voluntarily by national governments in the support of health care has been raised. Specifically, in October 2011, WHO released a discussion paper titled "The Solidarity Tobacco Contribution (STC)". The concept was initially proposed by a working group set up by World Bank to explore innovative sources of financing health care and envisions a voluntary action by interested governments to adopt an additional tax levy as part of their regular tobacco excise on each pack of cigarettes consumed. This would increase the effective excise tax rate on cigarettes towards the WHO recommended level of 70% of the retail price and, by generating substantial revenues, could ensure a sustainable revenue stream for financing international health. WHO has estimated that, by introducing USD 0.05/0.03/0.01 per pack of cigarette sold in 43 selected high-/middle-/low-income countries, respectively, a solidarity tobacco contribution (STC) would generate an additional USD 5.46 billion. A number of countries in the G-20 group of most developed countries have expressed interest in pursing the STC as a way to improve resource allocation for global health. For example, in addition to support for tobacco control, funds could be directed as new and additional contributions to make significant progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 4, reducing child mortality.

Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death. The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people each year; 600,000 of these are people exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless we act, by 2030 tobacco use will kill up to 8 million people annually, and more than 80% of those deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries. WHO and other relevant UN agencies are therefore working with Member States to increase the prioritization of NCD control and prevention and to address the risk factors underling NCDs.

One of the critical challenges in ensuring effective tobacco control is the need to tackle the influence the tobacco industry has on politics and media. In this vein, the 2012 World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) theme is focused on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry's brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to distort and undermine the WHO FCTC.

WHO notes that the author of the above-cited article has not provided any citations or referenced any sources. WHO welcomes open dialogue on all its work, insofar as that is how public health is accomplished - transparently, in the public sphere. Such dialogue is impossible, though, when predicated on poorly researched articles without foundation in fact.