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Tobacco Control Research to Prevent Cancer

The American Cancer Society’s Economic and Health Policy Research program conducts innovative research on the economic and policy aspects of tobacco control. In particular, the team has developed world-leading expertise on tobacco affordability and illicit trade, and the effects of international trade and investment agreements on tobacco control. The team also participates actively in global capacity-building efforts.


EHPR economist Evan Blecher, Ph.D., and his University of Cape Town collaborator Corne Van Walbeek, Ph.D., have produced pioneering research about the affordability of tobacco products, helping to re-shape the public health community’s conceptualization of the nexus of price, tax and consumption. Their work is now integrated thoroughly and explicitly into the World Health Organization’s formal recommendations on tobacco excise taxation.

Previously, health economists focused primarily on prices’ effects on consumption, and particularly the dynamic that higher cigarette prices lead to lower consumption. Observing that many governments were increasing taxes on cigarettes, but consumption was not decreasing, often even when prices were also rising, our researchers began to question the simplicity of this narrow focus. The missing pieces turned out to be income and inflation changes. In other words, the tax and price increases were not “keeping up,” so cigarettes were often still becoming more affordable to consumers. These findings have made addressing affordability the core goal of tobacco taxation efforts.

Illicit Trade

One of the most ubiquitous arguments that the tobacco industry uses to undermine public health efforts is the notion that tobacco control policies, and particularly increased excise taxation, cause illicit trade growth in cigarettes, which prompts governmental concern about tax revenue and even product safety. Remarkably, governments frequently used research on illicit trade from the tobacco industry to inform policy. To address this situation, the EHPR is working with partners worldwide to generate better research, including using more accurate methods, to improve our understanding of these challenges.

Trade and Investment Policies

EHPR’s research on international trade and investment policies closely examines not only how opponents of tobacco control are utilizing key institutional features of international economic agreements (e.g. the World Trade Organization) to undermine tobacco control, but also how these same agreements might serve to engender public health efforts. EHPR Managing Director, Jeffrey Drope, Ph.D., is leading the Society’s research in this area through a multi-year collaborative project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIDA, NCI and FIC) and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Please see the reports below. The team is currently conducting a multi-country survey of the economics of tobacco farming, which is a systematic, evidence-based effort to counter the tobacco industry-generated myth that tobacco control hurts farmers.


The EHPR program investigators actively participate in educating and informing governments, international organizations and civil society organizations about the economics of tobacco and NCDs more broadly. For example:

  • Evan Blecher, Ph.D., contributed to the official working group that developed guidelines for Article 6 in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which addresses tobacco excise taxation. The treaty’s parties adopted the guidelines in October, 2014.
  • Michal Stoklosa, M.A., continues to be actively involved in formally educating representatives of the European Union’s 27 members on tobacco taxation and illicit trade and recently testified before the European Commission.
  • Jeffrey Drope, Ph.D, has twice been a delegate at the WHO FCTC Conference of Parties representing ACS, and recently co-hosted workshops on trade and investment policy in Brazil with the colleagues at Brazil’s National Public Health School and in the Philippines with long-time partner organization, Action for Economic Reforms.

Recent Tobacco Control Publications

Tobacco Atlas Fifth Edition logo

The Tobacco Atlas

The most comprehensive, informative, and accessible resource on the pressing issues in the evolving tobacco epidemic. The fifth edition of the book and companion website, produced by the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation and released March 2015, detail tobacco’s role in non-communicable diseases, gender inequality, environmental devastation, and the rapidly growing use of e-cigarettes and water pipes.

The Political Economy of Tobacco Control in Brazil cover

The Political Economy of Tobacco Control in Brazil

Together with colleagues from Brazil’s National Public Health School, University of California-San Francisco and McGill University, we examine how Brazil has developed some of the most effective tobacco control policies in the world, and highlight some of the most pressing challenges they continue to face to implement public health policies. A Portuguese language version of this report is available upon request.

The Political Economy of Tobacco Control in the Philippines cover

The Political Economy of Tobacco Control in the Philippines

With our colleagues at Action for Economic Reforms and McGill University, we explore the challenges that the Philippines has faced to develop their tobacco control policies, with a particular emphasis on their recent landmark tobacco excise tax reform, which has become an example for countries around the world.