Cigarettes: The Tax Man

Health experts estimate smoking will kill around one billion people in the 21st century – leading for calls to increase the price of a packet of cigarettes by 50%. Making them less affordable could potentially save millions of people from suffering an early death from lung disease, cancer and heart disease, say researchers.

According to Canadian research carried out by the University of Toronto and St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, implementing a price hike, so a pack of 20 cigarettes would cost around £20, could save millions of lives. It is claimed people on low incomes who give up smoking as a result will have improved health and more money too.

The research team believes taxing cigarettes will mean poorer people won’t be able to afford them at all, while it will discourage young people from starting smoking in the first place.

Health charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) has cautiously welcomed the survey results, agreeing that putting up taxes means many people on low incomes will be encouraged to quit, but those who are addicted to smoking and carry on regardless will end up even more disadvantaged, says ASH.


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How much have cigarette prices risen?

There has already been a massive increase in the tax levied on cigarettes, with the government being responsible for steep price hikes in recent years, in an effort to improve the nation’s health.

The average price of a packet of 20 cigarettes increased from £4.40 in 2003 to £9.90 in 2017. Tobacco duty rose by 65% between 2010 and 2017. The 2017 budget placed an additional 2% tax increase on top of inflation on all tobacco products – and added a further 1% on top of that on rolling tobacco.

Increases in 2017 led the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association to claim the Treasury had already lost £3 billion as a result of people buying illegal tobacco on the Black Market between 2015 and 2016. The TMA also criticised the ban on small packs of tobacco, claiming this had also failed in its goal of discouraging people from smoking.

In 2018, the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes rose by 33p as a result of the budget. It was worse news for tobacco smokers, as the average packet of tobacco went up by 48p.

The Canadian research used computer data to estimate the effects of increasing the price of cigarettes in 13 countries, where the majority of smokers are men.

It is estimated that if the recommended price increases are implemented in 2019, 15.5 million of the 500 million male smokers will be saved from spending extra money on looking after their health in countries where there isn’t a National Health Service. In addition, 8.8 million men will avoid falling into “extreme poverty”.


Have higher prices impacted on sales?

According to a report released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics in 2018, 15.1% of residents aged 18 years and older are smokers. This means around 7.4 million people still smoke.

This represents a decrease in the number of smokers since 2016, when 15.8% of over-18s in the UK smoked. The report stated that since 2011, there had been a “significant decline” in the number of smokers. Around 17% of men and 13% of women are currently smokers.

The biggest reduction in smoking since 2011 has been in the 18 to 24-year-old age group. Around one-quarter of this group smoked in 2011, but this number was down to 17.8% in 2017.

However, the reasons why people have ceased smoking haven’t been clearly defined. As well as price hikes, other measures have been brought in to try and reduce the sales of cigarettes. These include keeping cigarettes hidden in cabinets at kiosks, small shops and supermarkets.

The packaging on cigarettes and tobacco has also become plain and uniform. All of these measures are aimed at reducing advertising for cigarettes and in particular making displays in shops less attractive for young people who may be thinking of taking up smoking.


Has vaping increased?

Research by the Office of National Statistics has revealed that the number of people vaping electronic cigarettes has increased as the number of tobacco smokers has declined. E-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular to help people quit smoking.

Public Health England stated that vaping posed only a tiny fraction of the risk of smoking tobacco. E-cigarettes are believed to be helping 20,000 people to successfully quit smoking every year. There are currently an estimated 2.8 million vapers in the UK – 5.5% of the population.

The number has risen significantly since 2011, when only 3.7% of UK residents smoked e-cigarettes. More men than women vape, while the highest proportion are in the 35 to 49 years age group.

Recent statistics show that 14.9% of current smokers also vape, with almost half saying it is an aid to help them to stop smoking. Around 11% of ex-cigarette smokers are vaping to make sure they don’t start smoking tobacco again.


What do pro-smoking groups think?

The pro-smoking pressure group, Forest, has described any further budget increases on smoking as “grossly unfair”. The group claims that the people who can least afford it will be hardest hit. Smokers will be spurred into buying tobacco on the Black Market as a result, which will have a negative impact on legitimate retailers, says Forest.

The organisation claims nobody will win except for illicit traders and criminal gangs if the further price hikes are introduced. Forest acknowledges that smoking is not necessarily a healthy choice, but says that tobacco is a legal product, so targeting smokers with high taxes is undermining the government’s commitment to having a fair society.

What are your views on drastically increasing the prices of cigarettes and tobacco? Are you a smoker who thinks you’re being unfairly targeted? Perhaps you’re an ex-smoker or a non-smoker who thinks it’s a good idea?

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