Tripling tobacco taxes across the world could cut smoking by a third and prevent 200 million premature deaths by the end of this century, researchers claim.
The tax boost would encourage people to quit smoking rather than switch from more expensive to cheaper brands, and help to stop young people taking up the habit, say the scientists.
They came to the conclusion after conducting a systematic review of 63 studies on the causes and consequences of tobacco use in different countries.
In New Zealand, a new 10 per cent tax hike on tobacco was introduced yesterday, after tax increases in January 2012 and 2013 saw a 14.6 per cent increase in cigarette prices and a significant impact on the smoking population
Research has shown that a 50 per cent higher inflation-adjusted price for cigarettes reduces tobacco consumption by about a fifth, with the biggest impact on the young and poor.
In most high-income countries, about 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the price of a pack of cigarettes is tax. But in most low and middle-income countries, tax makes up only 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the cost.
Study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, from the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths. It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there's still time.
"Globally, about half of all young men and one in 10 of all young women become smokers, and, particularly in developing countries, relatively few quit. If they keep smoking, about half will be killed by it, but if they stop before 40, they'll reduce their risk of dying from tobacco by 90 per cent.''
He added: "The international tobacco industry makes about 30 billion pounds in profits each year - that's a profit of approximately 6000 pounds per death from smoking.''
As well as cutting consumption by a third, tripling tobacco taxes would also increase global government revenues from tobacco by a third, from 180 billion a year to 240 billion, said the researchers.
In the European Union, a doubling of cigarette prices would prevent 100,000 deaths a year in the under 70s, they added.
The findings are reported in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.