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Modest progress on cigarette taxes requires scale up

A person shops for cigarettes at a vendor's stand.

The second edition of the Cigarette Tax Scorecard is out today and shows that governments have made insufficient progress in addressing the world’s leading cause of preventable death, even though the most effective tool—tobacco taxation—would reduce smoking and increase revenues.  The analysis is a product of Tobacconomics, a project of SPH’s Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Frank Chaloupka, PhD, distinguished professor of health policy and administration, is the lead author.  Co-authors include Jeff Drope, PhD, assistant professor of health policy and administration, Hye Myung Lee, PhD in Health Policy and Administration candidate, and Margaret Dorokhina and Mareda Smith, MPH in Health Policy and Administration candidates.

The global average cigarette tax score has barely risen over the past several years from 1.93 (out of 5.00) in 2014 to 2.28 in 2020. Overall scores have improved in 81 countries, stayed the same in 24 countries, and worsened in 48 countries. Only 75 of the 160 countries for which data are available score 2.50 or higher out of a maximum of five points.

Ecuador and New Zealand scored the highest with scores of 4.63, followed by United Kingdom and Canada, with scores of 4.38 and 4.25, respectively.

From 2018 to 2020, cigarette prices increased globally—except most notably in low-income countries, where the tobacco industry seeks to expand its market. There, average prices increased by $Intl PPP 0.28. Lowering these prices makes cigarettes more affordable and accessible to low-income populations, especially young people.

While average cigarette prices rose in the Americas and Western Pacific regions, the average tax share of retail price decreased. Thus, revenues that could be gained by governments through tax increases were captured by the tobacco industry. These regional gains in revenues allow the industry to lower prices in many low-income countries and maintain stable global profits while expanding their market.

Despite the economic shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the big four multinational tobacco companies are now continuing on a business-as-usual trajectory with stable global profits. Governments do not need to protect tobacco companies by lowering or postponing tax payments. Instead of allowing the tobacco companies to capture additional profits while imposing substantial burdens on public health, governments should raise tobacco taxes.

Frank Chaloupka, PhD  |  Distinguished Professor of Health Policy and Administration

Following the biennial release of the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2021, the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard (2nd edition) uses the newly released data to assess countries’ cigarette tax policies with respect to consistency with the widely accepted best practices of cigarette taxation. The Scorecard is based on four key components: cigarette price, change in affordability, tax structure, and tax share of retail price. The 2021 Scorecard can be found at

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