Lady Killer

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After ending cancer awareness month, public health researchers today announced at a Paris conference that Cancer may kill 5.5 million women yearly by 2030. This represents a 60 percent increase in less than two decades, according to the American Cancer Society.

As the global population grows and ages, the highest toll will be among women in poor and middle-income countries, and much of it from cancers which are largely preventable. Experts suggest government fees for stemming the tide of tobacco: Preventing cancer through taxation.

The first presentation about what cancer control advocates can do to reduce tobacco use: praise tobacco taxes on health grounds; remind governments of their country commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control a global health treaty in force since 2005 with more than 179 countries on board; and dispel the tobacco industry myths about the ineffectiveness of tobacco taxes.

The principle is simple. Finance ministries control tax rates and if you raise the tax and ultimately the price of tobacco, people buy less, and people quit smoking, especially young people, the poor, and the hard to reach communities. If you keep increasing taxes, over time, the smoking prevalence rate will drop and the rates of cancer will fall. For more information, please download the FCA Tax Report here.

The second presentation reminded the audience that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Cancer prevention measures such as anti-cancer taxes should be intensified to save lives. In the Philippines, tobacco taxes were increased in the first year by 341% and then by 4% annually starting in 2017, which tripled the department of health budget and supported half the population with the offer of cancer packages for treatment. The third presentation by Ulysses Dorotheo illustrated that political leadership was critical to make tobacco taxes happen in the Philippines and to counter the tobacco industry arguments. Patients and health professionals were the faces, champions, and voices of cancer to remind the public and the public about the importance of taxing tobacco. In fact, the loudest voice for tax reform was a patient with larynx cancer who was physically voiceless.

Some of the key questions discussed during the session break included questions about industry counterarguments and the partnership and collaboration needed between the ministries of finance and health. Jeremias Paul, a long-time former civil servant in the Ministry of Finance, warned the audience about “red herrings” such as smuggling. The risk was low and the solution is good governance and enforcement. It is up to the cancer community to remind their ministries of health and finance that tobacco taxes work, uncomplicated, and a win-win because it brings revenue and reduces tobacco use.

The final presentation by Neil Collishaw looked at another source of income for cancer control programming: taxing the profits of the tobacco industry. The profits come from the pockets of ordinary people and despite government assistance; countries still only contribute a small proportion to the FCTC. The annual compensation of the four biggest tobacco industry CEOs is greater than $30 million. To pay for tobacco control, it makes sense to tax the producer and apply transaction taxes at the point of repatriation. Countries have to do more if the funding and resources will be there now and in the future for tobacco and cancer control.