Curbing the Epidemic

Title: Curbing the Epidemic

Year of Publication: 1999


Subject: governments and the economics of tobacco control.

Summary: Curbing the Epidemic, a World Bank report, examines the economic questions that policymakers must adders when contemplating tobacco control. The report assesses the expected consequences of tobacco control for health, for economies and for the individual. It demonstrates that the economic fears that have deterred policymakers from taking actions are largely unfounded. Policies that reduce demand for tobacco, such as decisions to increase tobacco taxes, would not cause long-term job losses in most countries. Nor would higher tobacco taxes reduce taxes revenues; rather, revenues would climb in the medium term. Such policies could bring unprecedented health benefits without harming economies.


• If developing countries adopt measures to reduce the demand for tobacco, they can prevent millions of premature deaths and such disability, especially among the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich in most countries.

• A comprehensive tobacco control policy is not likely to harm economies. Research shows that such policies do not erode tobacco taxes revenues, nor do they cause permanent job losses.

• Demand-side tobacco control measures are effective in reducing consumption. Key measures include: raising cigarette taxes; implementing a complete ban on advertising and promotion of tobacco products; restricting smoking in public and work places; educating consumers about the health risks of smoking; and increasing access to cessation interventions such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help those who want to quit.

• Of those measures, the most effective is to increase the price of cigarettes. Children, adolescents and people on low incomes are most responsive to increase in price, so the impact of the measure in greatest among these groups.

• In contrast to these successful demand-reducing measures, efforts to reduce the supply of tobacco through measures such as banning tobacco, restricting sale to minors, trade restrictions or crop substitution, are likely to be effective.

• Poor tobacco farmers need not to be hurt by tobacco controls. Successful control policies will lead to a slow decline in tobacco use. Therefore, any loss of tobacco-farming jobs will be over decades or more, not overnight. Governments have a responsibility to assist the poorest farmers in the gradual transition to alternative livelihoods.

Today, about 1.1 billion people smoke worldwide. By 2025, the number is expected to rise to more than 1.6 billion. With current smoking patterns, about 500 million people alive today will eventually be killed by tobacco use. More than half of these are now children and teenagers…