According to the report, doubling cigarette prices would prevent about 70,000 deaths annually in the U.S. and Canada alone and provide $100 billion a year in revenue for those countries to spend on health care.
Jha believes such a tax would be especially effective in low- and middle-income countries, which have relatively cheap cigarettes and where smoking is on the rise, but wealthier nations around the globe also stand to benefit from such policies. For instance, cigarette consumption in France dropped by half between 1990 and 2005 when taxes were raised well above inflation. Smoking rates also plummeted in South Africa -- particularly among the young and poor -- after taxes were increased.
Even in the U.S., the number of smokers has dropped in tandem with higher cigarette prices. In New York City, where cigarettes are more expensive than the national average, only 14% of people are smokers.
"Worldwide, around a half-billion children and adults under the age of 35 are already -- or soon will be -- smokers and on current patterns few will quit," professor Sir Richard Peto of the University of Oxford and co-author of the study said in a press release. "[Our] study demonstrates that tobacco taxes are a hugely powerful lever and potentially a triple win -- reducing the numbers of people who smoke and who die from their addiction, reducing premature deaths from smoking and yet, at the same time, increasing government income."
The study builds on earlier research by Jha and Peto that found people who quit smoking when they are young can regain almost the full decade of life expectancy they would have otherwise lost by continuing to smoke.
This has serious implications for the U.S., where adults between the ages of 20 and 30 represent some of the highest smoking rates in the country.
"All governments can take action by regularly raising tobacco taxes above inflation, and using occasional steep tax hikes starting with their next budget," Peto said. "Young adult smokers will lose about a decade of life if they continue to smoke -- they've so much to gain by stopping."