Benefits of international tobacco smuggling protocol would outweigh costs

In collaboration with the Press Association

An international protocol on the illicit trade in tobacco products could reduce smuggling by up to 80 per cent in the UK, prevent 760 deaths per year and save the nation £5.7 billion, major new research suggests.

The viability of an international protocol on tobacco smuggling is currently being discussed at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, where 160 countries are taking part in talks.

The report, which was commissioned by the health campaigning charity ASH and funded by Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, concluded that the benefits of adopting an international agreement on tobacco smuggling would far outweigh the costs.

Paul Johnson, a former senior economic advisor to the Treasury, produced the report after analysing the probable costs and benefits to the UK of implementing an international protocol on tobacco smuggling.

He found that the UK could save £5.7 billion in reduced healthcare costs, output gains due to reduced mortality and less absenteeism.

If widely adopted, the protocol could also increase government tobacco tax revenues by up to £1.3 billion a year and be worth up to £32 billion over the next 50 years.

Mr Johnson found that the protocol would cost between £9 million and £53 million per year to implement - meaning that even in the worst-case scenario, the financial benefits would far outweigh the costs.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, commented: "Tobacco smuggling does not just starve the government's coffers of much needed tax revenues, but more importantly imposes enormous economic and health costs.

"This study shows that international action to tackle smuggling could result in substantial economic benefits as well as reducing the toll of death and disease caused by smoking. We urge governments to take into account all these potential benefits when making decisions about the relatively modest costs of tackling smuggling through the protocol."

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's head of policy, said: "Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer. The fact is that half of all lifetime smokers will die from cancer or another smoking-related illness, so it's crucial that the Government increases its anti-smuggling measures."