WHO Wants You—to Stop Smoking

Global health organization ponders excise taxes, e-cigarette regulations

• November 1, 2012 5:00 am


The World Health Organization (WHO) is facing criticism for its cigarette and tobacco control proposals at an upcoming November conference.

WHO is considering an excise tax of up to 70 percent on cigarettes as well as new restrictions on electronic cigarettes that do not contain tobacco.

As previously reported by the Free Beacon, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control indicated it might put a cigarette tax on the table at its November 12-17 conference in Seoul, Korea.

WHO says the taxes could raise more than $5 billion in funds for world health efforts.

However, critics of the tax increases say they would be regressive and lead to an increase in black market and counterfeit cigarettes. The proposed taxes also raise issues of national sovereignty.

Additionally, the November conference will consider action on electronic cigarettes, which vaporize nicotine instead of burning tobacco.

"Furthermore, under Article 13.2, Parties have an obligation to undertake a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship," WHO wrote in a June report on electronic cigarettes.

"‘Tobacco advertising and promotion’ is defined in Article 1(c) as ‘any form of commercial communication, recommendation or action with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly.’ Therefore, Parties may also wish to consider whether the sale, advertising, and even the use of electronic cigarettes can be considered as promoting tobacco use, either directly or indirectly. Regardless of whether or not ENDS contain nicotine or tobacco extracts, they are used to mimic smoking, which could be considered as a [direct or indirect] promotion of tobacco use."

However, critics of the proposal say the actions against electronic cigarettes would be counterproductive since the devices are safer than conventional cigarettes.

Michael Siegel, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health who focuses on tobacco control, said that discouraging electronic cigarettes would only protect big tobacco companies.

Siegel called the potential regulation of e-cigarettes "a dream come true" for tobacco companies in an interview with the Free Beacon.

"Unfortunately, I think a lot of the WHO’s actions are concerned with protecting the tobacco market in these countries from competition and much safer products," Siegel said.

"What it really comes down to is that the WHO simply cannot tolerate the fact that something which looks like smoking could possibly be a good thing, even if it is saving thousands of lives," Siegel wrote on his blog. "And so once again, it becomes clear that the WHO’s primary concern is not health, but ideology."

U.S. Free market tax policy analysts have also derided the tax proposals.

"First we had doctors without borders," David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, told the Free Beacon. "Now you could have taxes without borders."

Criticism from international tobacco farmers has also mounted as the conference approaches. The Daily Times of Pakistan reports:

"Though it is being proposed to increase tax on tobacco, the increase would be self-defeating, as it would lead to an explosion in illicit trade in tobacco products, resulting in a decline in tax revenues and an increase in youth smoking," said Ahsan Ullah Khan, President Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).

The illicit and counterfeit cigarettes have already outgrown the legal industry in Pakistan that only last year contributed a whopping Rs 58 billion in lieu of certain taxes.

Sale of smuggled cigarettes in 2011 increased by 65 percent, going from 1,018 million to 1,685 million alone while the overall illicit trade increased by 10 percent going from 18.7 percent to 20.6 percent of the market revenues.

WHO has also been advocating for higher tobacco taxes in Cambodia.

"The increase of the price of tobacco by national authorities through higher excise taxes is the single most effective way to encourage tobacco users to quit and prevent children from starting to smoke. In addition, it increases the revenue of governments without increasing illicit trade of tobacco," said the WHO’s Tarik Jasarevic.