AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND, 15 JUNE 2012 - A workshop on tobacco taxation in the Pacific will be held in Auckland from 18 to 22 June to review and evaluate current tobacco tax systems and explore ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Dr Shin Young-soo, World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific, urges Pacific island countries to raise tobacco taxes and prices. Higher cigarette prices would discourage young people from starting and encourage smokers to quit, he says.

"Raising the retail price of tobacco products through higher taxes is the single most effective way to reduce the demand for tobacco," says Dr Shin. "Raising tobacco taxes also helps to bolster national treasuries and to raise funds for public health."

Furthermore, this is consistent with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which all the countries of the Western Pacific have ratified and are obligated to implement. "Countries should recognize that higher prices will save lives and reduce the high economic and social burden of tobacco addiction," Dr Shin says. "They should resist tobacco industry pressure to keep tobacco prices low."

Studies show that a slight increase in the price of tobacco through increased taxation will significantly reduce the number of smokers and generate considerable revenue. Every 10% increase in the retail price reduces the consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and up to 8% in low- and medium-income countries, with smoking prevalence reduced by about half of those rates, WHO says.

Tobacco consumption is a leading cause of preventable death and disease worldwide. Of the world's 1 billion smokers, one in three are in the Western Pacific Region.

Dr Shin expressed concern that tobacco use prevalence rates in Pacific island countries remain high compared with the rest of the Region because cigarettes there are inexpensive and easily accessible.

The upcoming workshop seeks to build and strengthen in-country capacity to develop tax policies in Pacific island countries and areas in line with the Regional Action Plan for the Tobacco Free Initiative in the Western Pacific Region (2010-2014).

Other approaches have also been proven to reduce tobacco use, known by the acronym MPOWER. These include:

* monitor tobacco use and assess the impact of tobacco prevention and cessation efforts;
* protect everyone from second-hand smoke with laws that require smoke-free workplaces and public places;
* offer help to every tobacco user to quit;
* warn and effectively educate every person about the dangers of tobacco use with strong pictorial health warnings and hard-hitting, sustained media campaigns to educate the public;
* enact and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships and on the use of misleading terms such as "light" and "low-tar"; and
* raise the price of tobacco products by increasing tobacco taxes.