UNGA75 Misses Opportunity to Fund COVID-19 Recovery Through Tobacco Taxes

(New York, United States, September 25, 2020) – Heads of State meeting at the United National General Assembly (UNGA) on September 29th will discuss options for financing COVID recovery and sustainable development with one glaring omission – increasing tobacco taxes. Member nations are leaving billions of dollars on the table and foregoing an opportunity to improve global health during a pandemic.

The oversight runs counter to several recent UN actions. The 2015 UNGA endorsed the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which was the culmination of a seven-month consultation process. Heads of State and Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Development, along with global experts, recommended increasing tobacco taxes to finance sustainable development. UNGA 2015 recognized that “price and tax measures on tobacco can be an effective and important means to reduce tobacco consumption and health-care costs, and represent a revenue stream for financing for development in many countries.”

Yet tobacco taxation was ignored when Ministers of Finance from all member states met on September 8th 2020. The meeting was designed to agree to a menu of policy options to support economic recovery from the COVID pandemic and mobilize financial resources to drive progress towards the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Heads of State will consider these options on September 29th and tobacco taxation is not on the menu.

At a time of severe need, this is an opportunity missed. The tobacco industry puts a strain on health, the environment, and health systems around the world. Researchers have estimated that the total economic cost of smoking amounts to more than US$ 1.4 trillion per year, or 1.8% of global GDP annually. There has never been a better time to insist the tobacco industry is held financially accountable for the harm it causes.

Mary Assunta, a Partner in STOP commented: “The major barrier to achieving good health is the tobacco industry itself, which uses lobbying, PR campaigns, CSR, and misinformation to prevent tax increases that will hurt their sales. It’s time to make tobacco pay up, for both COVID-19 recovery and for sustainable development.”

Some countries and policymakers are showing leadership on this issue, stating that they are implementing tobacco tax increases to protect health and raise funds for COVID recovery. This week, the Russian Duma passed a 20 per cent increase in excise taxes on cigarettes and all tobacco products. In Mexico, the Undersecretary of Prevention and Promotion of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, has urged policymakers to increase tobacco taxes in the country’s economic package for 2021. Several U.S. states are also considering tobacco tax increases.


About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)
STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of BathThe Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC),  the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and Vital Strategies. For more information, visit exposetobacco.org.