Taxing tobacco could mean life or death for infants

By Melissa Busch, DrBicuspid.com associate editor

March 16, 2022 -- Raising taxes on tobacco products may be associated with a reduction in neonatal and infant mortality worldwide, according to a new study of 159 countries published on March 16 in PLOS Global Public Health.

If countries raised the tobacco tax to the World Health Organization's recommended 75% rate or higher, an estimated 231,220 infant deaths could have been avoided in 2018, the authors wrote.

Raising taxes on tobacco has been shown to be the most effective measure of reducing tobacco use and associated health risks, especially among low-income populations.

To study the links between cigarette taxes and infant deaths, researchers used data, including fertility rate, education, infant mortality, and tobacco taxation from 159 countries from 2008 to 2018.

On average, across all countries studied, the neonatal mortality rate was 14.4 and the infant mortality rate was 24.9 per 1,000 live births. The average total tax on cigarettes relative to retail price was 49.1%, according to the study.

A 10 percentage-point increase in total cigarette tax was associated with a 2.6% decrease in neonatal mortality and a 1.9% decrease in infant mortality, according to the study. Based on the findings, an estimated 231,220 infant deaths, including 181,970 neonatal deaths, may have been averted in 2018 if all countries had at least a 75% cigarette tax rate.

Nevertheless, a limitation of the study is that researchers could not control for all possible cofounders. However, it is suggested that the health impacts of taxation are likely mediated through decreases in prenatal and postnatal second-hand smoke exposure and decreased smoking during pregnancy, they wrote.


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