Higher taxes do curb smoking: World Health Organisation

S'pore's 71% tobacco tax not as high compared with at least 50 countries

Each year, tobacco kills five million smokers worldwide and a further 600,000 non-smokers through second-hand smoke.
Each year, tobacco kills five million smokers worldwide and a further 600,000 non-smokers through second-hand smoke. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: THE NEW PAPER

Out of the $12 for a pack of cigarettes sold in Singapore, $8.50 goes to the Government as tax. But this 71 per cent figure is not as high as elsewhere.

At least 50 countries, many in Europe, impose even higher taxes. And that is the correct thing to do, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In its release marking World No Tobacco Day today, it says: "Research shows that higher taxes are especially effective in reducing tobacco use among lower-income groups and in preventing young people from starting to smoke."

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) says there is a disproportionate number of Malay and lower-income smokers in Singapore.

WHO adds that for every 10 per cent increase in the price of cigarettes, smoking drops by 4 to 8 per cent, depending on how affluent the country is. Poorer countries see a bigger drop.

Each year, tobacco kills five million smokers and a further 600,000 non-smokers through second-hand smoke.

"Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030," WHO warns.

Smoking also shortens life and extends the number of years a person lives with ill health. Most smokers - 80 per cent - live in low- to middle-income countries, and their need for health-care services caused by smoking imposes a heavy toll on their countries.

In Singapore, the proportion of smokers rose from 12.6 per cent in 2004 to 14.3 per cent by 2010. Singapore raised tobacco tax by 10 per cent this year, bringing the total to 71 per cent, hoping to stem this.

The HPB is also launching its fourth "I Quit" campaign today which encourages smokers to stop smoking for 28 days. Those who stay smoke-free for four weeks are "five times more likely to succeed (in stopping) for good", says an HPB spokesman.

After a year of not smoking, the risk of getting a heart attack drops by half. The risk of stroke and cancers in the lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas is also reduced.

Dr Ong Kian Chung, a respiratory medicine specialist in private practice, says most of his patients are smokers. Some are as young as in their 20s.

"That's because smokers have a greater risk of getting all kinds of respiratory conditions."

Younger patients tend to suffer from asthma and bronchitis, while those who are in their 50s and older would see him for more serious conditions such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

People with COPD get breathless easily and might require frequent oxygen. Some even have difficulty walking just a few steps.

On lung cancer, Dr Ong says most people discover it late, by which time little can be done.

His advice is an annual low- dose CT scan that costs about $400 for heavy smokers who have had more than 70,000 sticks in their lifetime. This can help them catch the cancer before it spreads.

But the best thing, he points out, is to stop smoking.



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