France targets tobacco industry to raise cash for global health

France is considering introducing an innovative new additional tax on the tobacco industry, in an effort to reduce the number of deaths from tobacco related illnesses. It is estimated that there are 60 000 deaths a year in France from these illnesses.

The proposed new tax, which would raise money to be used in France and in the developing world, is inspired by Unitaid, the international facility to buy drugs for developing countries. Unitaid’s main source of funding is a levy on airplane tickets.

Thoughtful woman smoking a cigarette

Thoughtful woman smoking a cigarette

France’s minister of health, Xavier Bertrand, has commissioned a report on new ways of implementing all measures recommended in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which France ratified in 2004. The report will be prepared by the member of the National Assembly Yves Bur, who is in the same party as the minister, the centre right Union for a Popular Movement.

“The key idea is to take the struggle against tobacco out of party politics,” said Mr Bur. He is hoping to wean the state off the €18bn (£16bn; $24bn) it receives each year from taxes on tobacco. “Tobacco control policies should not be decided in the Ministry of Finance,” he said.

Mr Bur has several ideas about how to change things. He wants to emulate successes in road safety policy by setting up better coordination among government departments. Road deaths have fallen from 15 000 to 4000 a year in less than 10 years through such an approach. He is also interested in the Unitaid model, which would allow tax revenues from a new tobacco tax to be used as a contribution towards agreed global health objectives.

Sylviane Ratte, a technical adviser on tobacco control with the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, said, “The means to finance the struggle against tobacco worldwide do exist, including to help smokers to kick their habit. What is needed is political willingness.”

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO. Adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003, it has become one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations. The treaty was developed in response to the growing worldwide epidemic of tobacco related illness and is an evidence based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health.

Of the 174 countries that have signed the convention, 120 have adopted or strengthened tobacco control legislation in response.

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