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What is known about tobacco industry efforts to influence tobacco tax? A systematic review of empirical studies
  1. Katherine E Smith1,
  2. Emily Savell2,3,
  3. Anna B Gilmore2,3,4
  1. 1Global Public Health Unit, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  3. 3UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, UK
  4. 4European Centre for Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katherine Smith, Global Public Health Unit, Social Policy, University of Edinburgh, 15a George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LD, UK; katherine.smith{at}


Objective To systematically review studies of tobacco industry efforts to influence tobacco tax policies.

Methods Searches were conducted between 1 October 2009 and 31 March 2010 in 14 databases/websites, in relevant bibliographies and via experts. Studies were included if they focused on industry efforts to influence tobacco tax policies, drew on empirical evidence, were in English and concerned the period 1985–2010. In total, 36 studies met these criteria. Two reviewers undertook data extraction and critical appraisal. A random selection of 15 studies (42%) was subject to second review. Evidence was assessed thematically to identify distinct tobacco industry aims, arguments and tactics.

Results A total of 34 studies examined industry efforts to influence tax levels. They suggest the tobacco industry works hard to prevent significant increases and particularly dislikes taxes ‘earmarked’ for tobacco control. Key arguments to counter increases are that tobacco taxes are socially regressive, unfair and lead to increased levels of illicit trade and negative economic impacts. For earmarked taxes, the industry also frequently tries to raise concerns about revenue allocation. Assessing industry arguments against established evidence demonstrates most are unsupported. Key industry tactics include: establishing ‘front groups’, securing credible allies, direct lobbying and publicity campaigns. Only seven studies examined efforts to influence tax structures. They suggest company preferences vary and tactics centre on direct lobbying.

Conclusions The tobacco industry has historically tried to keep tobacco taxes low using consistent tactics and misleading arguments. Further research is required to explore efforts to influence tax structures, excise policies beyond the USA and recent policies.

  • Systematic review
  • tobacco excise structures (specific tax
  • ad valorem tax)
  • tobacco tax increases
  • hypothecated taxes
  • earmarked taxes
  • tobacco industry
  • tobacco control

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  • Funding This review was supported by the European Commission's FP7 funding framework as part of the 'Pricing Policies and Control of Tobacco in Europe (PPACTE)' project, EC FP7 Grant Agreement HEALTH-F2-2009-223323. ABG is supported by a Health Foundation Clinician Scientist Fellowship and further support was provided by the National Cancer Institute of the United States National Institutes of Health (grant no. R01CA160695). KES is supported by an ESRC-MRC Postdoctoral Fellowship grant (grant no. PTA-037-27-0181). ABG is a member of UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (UKCTCS), a UK Centre for Public Health Excellence, which is supported by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration. The funders played no role in the study design, analysis and interpretation of data, nor writing of the report or the decision to submit the article for publication. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the funders.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.