To measure SDGs’ progress, UN should track tobacco affordability

22 Sep 2015

While there is no easy way to measure how each country complies with the FCTC’s provisions, it is possible to assess if they are taking tobacco control seriously.

Governments’ efforts to keep the price of tobacco products high, so that they continually become less affordable, will demonstrate their commitment to ending the tobacco epidemic. Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) has officially proposed to the UN that affordability data be used to assess governments’ policy on strengthening implementation of the FCTC.

Tax increases effective

Increasing the prices of cigarettes and other tobacco products through taxation is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use. Unfortunately, many countries are yet to tax tobacco at sufficiently high levels, as highlighted in a recent WHO report. The reasons why tobacco taxes stay low in many countries range from tobacco industry lobbying, inefficient administration or lack of coordination between ministries of health and finance.

Also, increasing tobacco taxes once is not enough: inflation or growing incomes can make tobacco affordable over time, as happens in many developing countries. Regular price increases, in other words a continuous commitment to fighting the devastation caused by the tobacco epidemic, are required.

There is another reason why tobacco affordability should be part of monitoring the SDGs. Tobacco taxes are explicitly highlighted in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, recently adopted at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, as an effective and important tool to reduce tobacco consumption and health-care costs, as well as a potential revenue stream to finance development at country level.

Increasing tobacco taxes is a ‘win-win’ for any government that wants to meet the global goals and is seeking extra funds to invest in its sustainable future. Monitoring affordability of tobacco will provide the necessary measurement of how governments are keeping their SDGs promise to implement the FCTC.

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*Implementation of the FCTC is included in the SDGs, as target 3.a under Goal 3

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