ETCP Hosts Tobacco Taxation Workshop

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SALDRU’s Economics of Tobacco Control Project (ETCP) hosted a workshop on tobacco taxation for research fellows of the Tobacco Control Capacity Programme (TCCP). The event was held from 5-9 November 2018 in Cape Town. The TCCP is a training and research programme which aims to develop the research capacities of upcoming researchers to reduce tobacco consumption. It is funded by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The programme involves academics from six UK universities along with eight research organisations in low and middle-income countries (LMICs); namely Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, India (2), Uganda and South Africa. At the University of Cape Town (UCT), the TCCP is based in the Economics of Tobacco Control Project in the School of Economics.

The workshop sought to enhance research fellows’ knowledge of tobacco taxation issues and modelling. It also provided them with an opportunity to get focussed support for their research plans on the topic. The five-day event also contributed to building relationships between UCT staff and those from other partner institutions, as well as among the research fellows themselves. During the five-day workshop, presentations focussed on basic economic concepts (demand, supply and elasticities), tobacco excise tax simulations, introduction to a statistical software (STATA), and estimating price and income elasticities using different types of data.

The Principal Investigator of the ETCP and the workshop lead, Prof. Corné van Walbeek, noted that the event facilitated a key component of the TCCP, namely to build the capacity of research fellows. Members from the ETCP provided support to the research fellows in developing their research plans, specifically in the area of tobacco taxation.

The opportunity for knowledge exchange was welcomed by all participants. The research fellows individually presented their research plans, which allowed peer-to-peer advice and collective problem-solving to take place. Attendees spent the week discussing plans and supporting one another with advice and suggestions.

Background to the Event

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world. Globally, smoking kills more people every year than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. By 2030, more than 80% of the world’s tobacco-related deaths will occur in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Preventing people from starting to use tobacco, and encouraging users to stop, is a global priority.

The World Health Organisation is addressing this through an international treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which has been ratified by 181 countries and sets out the policies countries should adopt to prevent smoking. The United Nations (UN) sees the FCTC as so important that when it set up the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ it included the FCTC in Goal 3, which is about improving health and wellbeing for all the world’s people. Goal 3.10 says that the implementation of the FCTC should be strengthened in all countries.

However, while a number of high income countries (HICs) have made good progress in FCTC implementation, this is not the case in all LMICs. Signing the treaty is not enough: governments need to be helped to introduce good policies and enforce them. However, few LMICs have the capacity, or in some cases the staff with the right skills, to carry out the research and advocacy necessary to design, implement and achieve compliance with good tobacco control policies. In particular, there is a dearth of capacity in the area of tobacco taxation; increases in tobacco taxation have been shown to be the single most effective means of reducing tobacco use.

Most existing research on tobacco has been conducted in HICs, and this research is not always relevant to LMICs. There is a need to train and support researchers in tobacco prevention in LMICs, with skills in a variety of disciplines. This research programme is about filling these gaps, building on some good work already under way.

The grant will build research capacity in several LMICs, through funding for in-country senior researchers and post-doctoral scholars who will undertake research designed to address local priorities in each country, supported by a programme of training in research methods and public and policy engagement. It will focus, in particular, on three issues relevant to UN SDG 3 but also other UN goals on peace, justice and strong institutions and partnerships.

These are: tobacco taxation (which helps reduce tobacco use and provides money for governments to build the economy); preventing illicit trade in tobacco (by protecting tax revenue, reducing corruption and helping to reduce crime) and preventing tobacco industry interference (which aims to prevent or undermine national implementation of FCTC measures). Studies will be conducted on these topics as well as additional priorities chosen by countries, such as building evidence for ‘smoke free’ clean air policies, putting health warnings on tobacco packets and services to help people stop smoking.