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Tobacco taxes key to stemming the world’s rising burden of lung cancer

(New York, USA) – Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths globally and on a worrying upward trend, according to The Global Burden of Disease Cancer Collaboration’s recently-published report. Of particular concern are climbing rates in low and middle income countries, which are driving the global trend. Vital Strategies joins the global community today in commemorating and supporting those affected by lung cancer and calls on governments to implement strong tobacco control policies – especially through targeted increases in tobacco taxes – to reduce the growing health and economic burden of lung cancer.

Tobacco taxes are the best way to decrease tobacco use, the primary risk factor for lung cancer. According to The Tobacco Atlas, high taxes that make tobacco less affordable reduce tobacco initiation and consumption. Making cigarettes four times more costly in all countries globally by 2025 would deliver the World Health Organization target of reducing tobacco use prevalence by 30% by 2025.

“Deaths from lung cancer increased from 1.6 million in 2012 to 1.7 million in 2016,” said José Luis Castro, CEO and President of the global health organization Vital Strategies. “Tobacco use – the leading risk factor – is increasing in many low- and middle-income countries. These countries can avert the deadly and costly growth in tobacco-related cancers, but they must act swiftly. Adopting high tobacco taxes is the single most effective but least implemented policy to reduce tobacco use. The United Nations High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) in September provides an opportunity for countries to make public commitments to the effective use of tax as a cancer prevention tool.”

In 2016, lung cancer accounted for nearly 20 percent of the 8.9 million cancer deaths. It is the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and second most common cause of cancer-related death in women, after breast cancer.  This burden is largely preventable as 80% of lung cancer cases are related to smoking, according to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. The remaining cases are linked to air pollution and other environmental exposures including asbestos in the workplace and secondhand smoke and having a family history of lung cancer.

Vital Strategies is a partner of Prevent20, a coalition of cancer organizations that support high tobacco taxes as a tool to reduce tobacco-related cancer deaths. In a number of countries, Vital Strategies has provided technical assistance for mass media campaigns designed to highlight the link between tobacco use and lung cancer, and to build support for tobacco tax increases. And in a recent letter in The Lancet, Mr. Castro joined 49 other experts in calling for the Political Declaration for the Third High Level Meeting on NCDs to include specific commitments on using fiscal measures – including tobacco taxes – to reduce preventable disease, including cancer.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact