Raise cigarette tax but use the cash to help people quit

By on 12/03/2014 in Blog

Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, reflects on calls for an inflation busting tax rise on cigarettes.

  • Q) Is higher taxation the way to end the UK’s ongoing deadly relationship with cigarettes?
  • A) It could certainly help – especially if we spend the additional money sensibly.

To mark No Smoking Day, 80 leading UK health organisations are calling for a five per cent above inflation increase on cigarette tax in next week's budget.

According to the British Heart Foundation, nearly half of all ex-smokers think the controversial move to increase tax on cigarettes would help more smokers quit.

The research goes onto predict that increasing tax by five per cent would help 104,400 smokers quit, saving 479 lives in the first year alone.

Impressive figures.

But what if we went one step further? What if we took the estimated £485 million raised by a five per cent tax increase and ploughed it directly into public health initiatives designed to help people quit smoking?

A tax hike alone will be seen by many as little more than a measure designed to punish smokers for their addiction. And if governments continue viewing smokers as a ‘cash cow’, just how serious are they about helping people quit the deadly habit?

But if any additional tax revenue was spent on the very projects that would help the two-thirds of smokers who want to quit, it would be far easier to defend a rise.

So what would we spend the money on?

We know that Stop Smoking Services can transform people’s lives but we could also be a little more creative.

Here in Birmingham we’ve found that the desire to get fit and active often goes hand in hand with a decision to quit smoking. So we could use our share of the £485 million to further expand our Be Active and Active Parks offer - supporting the Stop Smoking Service with a free physical activity offer.

We could help people quit and get fit.

We withdrew support for the Responsibility Deal last year when the Government backtracked on the issue of standardised packaging for cigarettes. What better way for the Government to demonstrate just how serious it is about tackling smoking than to boost cessation programmes up and down the country by almost £500 million a year?

Then we can move onto standardised packaging…

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