Public health groups call for 5 per cent rise in tobacco tax

In collaboration with Adfero

The health of the nation could be greatly improved by increasing tobacco taxation, a new report by anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has claimed.

In its report, the charity provides details of an extensive economic evaluation by independent economist Howard Reed into increasing tobacco prices.

The recommendations contained in the report, entitled 'The Effects of Increasing Tobacco Taxation', are supported by 50 public health organisations - including Cancer Research UK - which have called upon the government to increase the price of tobacco in the Budget.

They say that the price of tobacco should be increased through taxation by five per cent above inflation in the forthcoming Budget, and by a minimum of the rate of inflation in subsequent years.

Howard Reed found that raising tobacco taxes by this amount could:

  • reduce the number of smokers by 190,000;
  • save the NHS over £20 million per year; and
  • save the economy over £10 million a year thanks to reduced smoking-related absenteeism in the workplace.

The report also suggests that the move would increase government tax revenues by over £500 million a year and provide over £270 million worth of wider economic benefits per year.

It concluded that an above-inflation rise in the price of tobacco "is good for the health of the individual, as well as for the health of the country".

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said that increasing tobacco taxation would help to discourage children from buying cigarettes, while an above-inflation rise would also help adults to quit smoking.

Joy Townsend, emeritus professor of health economics and primary care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, insisted that the government should act on the report's recommendations.

"This is an excellent and valuable report," she said. "It uses sound well-developed economic models, which illustrate most effectively how great an impact raising taxes can have in reducing the demand for tobacco, and the clear and significant benefits for both public health and public finances."

Sarah Woolnough, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "A comprehensive strategy to help smokers quit and to discourage people from starting to smoke in the first place is key. Keeping the price of tobacco high is important to make smoking less attractive, particularly among younger smokers, so we hope the Treasury give this proposal serious consideration.

"Half of all long-term smokers will die from their addiction and smoking accounts for one in four cancer deaths in the UK."