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Introducing Tobacconomics’ Tobacco Control Supplement: “The Economics of Tobacco Taxation in Low‑ and Middle‑Income Countries”

Last year, we released a blog series describing the Tobacconomics approach to building think tank capacity. As the project concludes its fourth year, our partners have become adept at producing high-quality research on the economics of tobacco taxation. In this blog, we want to share some lessons learned over the past four years as well as overview our partners’ contributions to the recently released Tobacco Control Supplement.

Lessons Learned in Research and Dissemination Mentoring:

After 4 years, 31 think tank partners in 18 different countries, the team has learned a lot from our partners. With their help, we continue to refine our process to make it more effective. Here are the lessons learned thus far:

– Capacity building is a time-intensive process and requires close attention. Many of our partners had never worked on the economics of tobacco control prior to the start of the project. With research quality being our top priority, we quickly came to realize that a variety of support tools were necessary for our partners, including an ongoing stream of technical assistance through in-person trainings, interactive workshops, research meetings, and regular communication. As we find ourselves facing new challenges in a global pandemic, we are adapting the ways we remain connected with our partners, so that time together is more interactive, frequent, concise, and meaningful.

– Mentored research cannot be outsourced. Having a staff economist as the primary contact for each think tank has been essential to growing our partners’ research capacity. A staff economist provides technical assistance, builds relationships, and transfers technical skills. Our staff economists are experts in their respective region and in many cases, it is their land of origin. As a result, they understand local contexts, cultural sensitivities, and policy challenges at play in their respective regions.

– Direct involvement is best. We learned to directly involve ourselves with think tanks throughout the research process, even when they are operating within a larger regional network. In the regional networks, we found it best to keep things simple: it is better for all of the partners to work on the same research topic as this allows us to synchronize technical assistance and trainings.

– Quality takes time and a method. Finally, instead of diving into very complex issues from the start of our partnerships, we devised a set of “Core Competencies” of economic analysis of fiscal policy. Considering the policy context, research gaps, and think tank capacity, we align each piece of research into one-year work plans. The Core Competencies are listed below:

1)    How will consumers and producers respond to the proposed fiscal policy?

●      Methods: Estimating demand elasticity using Household Expenditure and other survey data; store scanner data; and/or time series data

2)    How will a given fiscal policy affect the price of taxed and untaxed products and how will this change in price affect government revenues, consumption, and health outcomes?

●      Methods: Modeling alternative tax structures/rates on revenues and public health impacts

3)    How will the fiscal policy affect the poor and/or the young?

●      Methods: Measuring distributional impacts of tax increases

4)    What are the health and economic costs of a given unhealthy behavior and how can fiscal policies address these costs?

●      Methods: Quantifying economic costs (direct and indirect) of use and how taxes can address these costs

5)    How will the fiscal policy affect employment and economic growth?

●      Methods: Estimating macroeconomic impacts of tax increases, e.g., employment, economic growth, supply chain analysis, etc. through quasi-experimental designs, Input-Output, Computable General Equilibrium, and other models

6)    To what extent do fiscal policies, such as taxes lead to avoidance and evasion?

●      Methods: Quantifying extent of cross-border shopping in tax evaluation models, levels of illicit trade, measuring trends, geographical areas of leakage, etc. using primary and secondary data sources

What’s in the Tobacco Control Supplement?

Our partners have produced dozens of high quality research products, all of which can be accessed on our website. A few of these research efforts are reflected in the Tobacco Control Supplement. The Supplement opens with an overview article titled, “Think Tank Capacity Building for Economic Analysis on Tobacco: Experiences and Lessons Learned”.

Think tanks from each of the three regions where we work contributed eight research articles to the supplement. The research featured in the supplement was produced in the first grant cycle and contributed to evidence-based policymaking discussions in their respective countries. The Supplement consists of:

Latin America:

Southeastern Europe:

Asia:

Our hope is that the Tobacco Control Supplement sparks more research to inform more effective tobacco tax policies, especially in low- and middle-income countries. We look forward to sharing more new research produced by the emerging tobacco taxation experts generated through this partnership.