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Building on a legacy of work for tobacco control

May 26, 2017

IDRC-supported projects and impact have continued to grow since the Centre’s initial focus on small grants in 1994.

South African and Jamaican researchers were the first to be supported to provide evidence for their countries’ first tobacco tax increases. Since then, IDRC’s commitment to these neglected issues has enabled researchers to lead and decision-makers to act in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.

Many of the current leading tobacco control researchers and advocates in low- and middle-income countries started their work with support from the IDRC and U.K. Department for International Development-supported “Research for International Tobacco Control” program (RITC).

RITC drew attention to multiple Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) provisions, tobacco farming issues, the neglect of alternative tobacco products (for example, the water pipe in the Middle East), and the need for a response to the neglected but rapidly emerging tobacco epidemic in African countries. More recently, IDRC has emphasized research into fiscal policies for tobacco control and the economic arguments for action.  

Supporting the generation of country-level evidence has been influential in the adoption of new policies.These are some of the impacts of IDRC-supported research.

Implementing effective fiscal and policy measures for tobacco control

In South Africa, research provided the government with the foundation to increase taxes, ban all tobacco advertising and industry sponsorships, and prohibit smoking in public places.

  • South Africa's winning tobacco control strategy

Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, researchers are using sophisticated economic and epidemiological models to calculate what levels of tax increases are required to discourage demand, and what this means for national disease rates and health costs.  In several cases, researchers’ examinations of unique local conditions (such as the nature of national tax systems) have led to the proposal of new policy options of direct use to legislators seeking to limit tobacco use.  

Responding to the myth that tobacco taxes harm the poor

In the Philippines, analysis of individual and household-level data demonstrated that the effect of increases in tobacco prices has the greatest effect on reducing tobacco consumption among the poorest. This evidence has served to support policymakers in countering resistance to tobacco control. The government of the Philippines adopted one of the most progressive tax policies, which is driving down tobacco use and healthcare costs while generating revenue for the expansion of primary healthcare for the poor.

Eliminating commercial barriers that prevent increases in tobacco taxes

Researchers in Southeast Asia identified threats to tobacco control in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and promoted policy coherence in trade and investment agreements to promote economic and health interests.

In West Africa, the impacts of tobacco were not even on the radar of politicians and citizens. Compiling comparative statistics on tax policies and tobacco consumption required a massive networking effort across the bureaucracies of health and finance ministries in 15 countries. This data led to a sea change, including a regional directive of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) enabling the removal of a regional maximum limit on the taxation of tobacco products.  

Countering industry arguments on the contribution of tobacco to local economies and livelihoods

Evidence from Kenya and Bangladesh demonstrated that farmers can successfully switch to other crops, including to bamboo production or food crops, thereby increasing income and decreasing workload. 

Establishing the negative health impacts of water pipe use

Evidence from Lebanon demonstrated that water pipes (also known as hookahs) are as harmful to health as cigarettes, resulting in a World Health Organization advisory.

Learn more about IDRC's investment in tobacco control research