WHO deal backs higher tobacco taxes to cut smoking

[Moscow] The World Health Organization on Wednesday adopted guidelines recommending countries bring in higher taxes on cigarettes to help cut smoking rates, a move fiercely opposed by the tobacco industry.

Delegates from 179 countries meeting in Moscow signed up to the agreement, which gives individual countries licence to set their own taxes on cigarettes, as part of the international health body's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"Any policy to increase tobacco taxes that effectively increases real prices reduces tobacco use," said the agreement, seen by AFP.

"There is no single optimal level of tobacco taxes that applies to all countries," added the UN's health agency, which has previously recommended tax should account for 70 per cent of cigarette retail prices.

The five-day summit in Moscow brought together some 1,500 delegates who are pushing for tougher taxes on smoking in a bid to curb a habit that they blame for six million deaths worldwide each year.

Although the guidelines are "not legally binding," as the chief of the FCTC secretariat, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, told AFP, activists argue ramping up duties on cigarettes is the best way to cut smoking rates around the globe.

"We are extremely happy," Martin Logan, a spokesman for the Framework Convention Alliance, an NGO promoting tobacco control, told AFP.

But the move has sparked anger in the tobacco industry, which is already wrestling with more stringent anti-cigarette laws in its fastest-growing emerging markets.

"Governments don't need international organisations to tell them which tax structure and tax level best match their domestic economic and social conditions," said Iro Antoniadou, spokeswoman for tobacco giant Philip Morris.

"The proposals infringe on national sovereignty and are fiscally unsound, which is why they were rejected two years ago" at the WHO's last biannual summit, she said.

Both the United States and Canada boycotted the meeting in Moscow amid a standoff with Russia over its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine. AFP


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