Health Economists, Tobacco Control and International Development: On the Economisation of Global Health Beyond Neoliberal Structural Adjustment Policies

David Reubi, 2013, BioSocieties, 8, 205-228

This article addresses the increasing influence of economic rationalities in global health over the past 30 years by examining the genealogy of one economic strategy – taxation – that has become central to international anti-smoking initiatives in the global South. It argues that this genealogy sits uncomfortably with the usual story about economics and global health, which reduces the economisation of international health to neoliberal structural adjustment policies aimed at stabilisation, liberalisation and privatisation and laments their detrimental effect on health. While not disputing these policies’ importance and damaging impact, the genealogy of tobacco taxes outlined in this article shows that the economisation of global health is not only about neoliberal structural adjustment policies but also about sin taxes, market failures and health economics. By stressing how changes in health like the global South’s epidemiological transition can impact on economics and how beneficial taxation can be for health, it also shows that the relation between economics and health is not always unidirectional and detrimental to the latter. In doing so, the article contributes to the critique of the often mechanical use of neo-liberalism to explicate change and calls for other stories about the economisation of global health to be told.