New report says tobacco companies should be forced to pay the cost of reducing smoking rates

Wednesday 10 June 2015

More than 120 public health-related organisations have joined Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) today to call on the Government to impose an annual levy on tobacco companies. The money raised would pay for evidence-based measures to reduce smoking including enhanced mass media campaigns and stop smoking services. This could save tens of thousands of lives over the next decade and play a key role in helping to reduce costs to the NHS from preventable ill health.[1]

Every year smoking costs the NHS at least £2 billion and a further £10.8 billion in wider costs to society, including social care costs of over £1 billion [2].

Publishing the ambitious five-year tobacco strategy Smoking Still Kills [3], Peter Kellner Chair of the report’s Editorial Board and President, YouGov, commented:

“The NHS is facing an acute funding shortage and any serious strategy to address this must tackle the causes of preventable ill health. The tobacco companies, which last year made over a £1 billion in profit, are responsible for the premature deaths of 80,000 people in England each year, and should be forced to pay for the harm they cause.

“Investing in evidence-based measures that reduce smoking is highly cost effective; for example Stop Smoking Services have been shown to be one of the most cost effective ways to improve people’s health. Placing a levy on tobacco companies to fund such work is a win-win – saving both money and lives.”

In the March budget earlier this year the Chancellor committed the Government to consult further on imposing a levy on tobacco companies [4].

Since the publication of the first comprehensive government strategy on tobacco in 1998 70,000 lives [5] have been saved as a result of falling smoking rates. However, the current strategy, The Tobacco Control Plan for England [6], only runs to the end of 2015.

The health gains which have been made in the last few decades have not been even; smoking is now more concentrated than ever among the least advantaged in society. The report states that a new properly funded Government strategy must also address the startling and widening health inequalities smoking causes. New ASH research reveals a shocking picture of inequalities where in England over 1.2 million children and 3 million adults live below the poverty line in households that smoke. By requiring tobacco companies to fund a proper evidence-based strategy to reduce smoking over half a million households could be lifted out of poverty [7].

To meet the challenge of reducing inequalities the Smoking Still Kills report calls for new requirements on tobacco companies to compel them to disclose their sales figures down to a local level. This would ensure funding to reduce smoking rates could be targeted at areas with the highest level of smokers.

The report calls for:

1. A new vision for the country with ambitious target of achieving 5% smoking rate by 2035: No one should be left behind as we achieve a tobacco free future and health inequalities must not be allowed to widen.
2. A new comprehensive five-year Government tobacco strategy for England: Comprehensive approach is vital – 70,000 lives have been saved due to falling smoking rates since 1998, when the first comprehensive government strategy on tobacco, Smoking Kills, was published.
3. A new approach to funding, annual levy on tobacco companies to fund tobacco control: Tobacco companies make over £1bn in profit in the UK and the harms from smoking to society are significant. They should pay to address the harms they cause.
4. A comprehensive package of measures: taken together the recommendations in this report are designed to set us on the path to a smokefree future by 2035.

Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East (Conservative) and Secretary of APPG on Smoking and Health, said:

“Every day 200 people die from smoking related illnesses. At the same time hundreds of young people take up smoking, storing up a burden of ill health and premature death for the future. As this report makes clear, we must go further and do more. I urge the Government to waste no time in publishing a renewed strategy and to pay for this through a levy on the tobacco companies that have spent so many decades profiting from ill health.”

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of British Heart Foundation, said:

“We need a comprehensive new strategy, sustained investment in tobacco control and strong political will to show we are serious about reducing the devastating damage that smoking causes. By cutting smoking rates further, we can reduce the rate of heart attacks almost immediately, and deliver longer term benefits by reducing cardiovascular conditions that cause so much suffering and cost the country dearly.”

Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said:

“Any strategy to prevent cancer in this country must have a strong focus on tobacco. Smoking Still Kills provides a blueprint for the Government to show it remains seriously committed to tackling tobacco over the next five years. The real cost of this lethal and addictive product is borne by the people who suffer its effects through cancer and other diseases. But there is also a financial cost to the NHS and to society. This should be picked up by the tobacco companies themselves, who have been the agents of an epidemic which continues to impose a devastating economic and social burden on this country.”

Case Studies

Ex-smokers are available to talk to the media about their story of quitting and how is has:
• Improved their health condition
• Freed up money to spend on their family

US spokesman
A spokesman is available from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids who can talk about the existing US legislation which compels tobacco companies to fund work to reduce smoking.


For further information contact:
Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy
T: 020 7404 0242
Notes to Editors
[1] According to the NHS Five Year Forward View the NHS will have a funding gap of £22 billion by 2020 which can only be filled if it succeeds in implementing a ‘radical upgrade in prevention and public health.’

[2] ASH Ready Reckoner tool

[3] The recommendations in Smoking Still Kills were developed by an editorial board of experts working in consultation with local and national stakeholders. The board includes Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, and senior academics from the University of Nottingham, King’s College London and University College London (UCL). The report has also been endorsed by over 120 public health-related organisations. The report was jointly funded by Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation and ASH.

The report, executive summary and related documents are available to download on the ASH website, here.

[4] The March 2015 Budget included this statement: “Smoking imposes costs on society and it is fair to ask tobacco manufacturers and importers to make a greater contribution towards these costs. However it is essential that this is done in the most effective way. At Autumn Statement 2014, the government announced a consultation on a tobacco levy. The responses revealed issues that the government would like to explore further, and so the consultation will be continued informally with stakeholders in order to develop detailed policy proposals.”

[5] Research undertaken by Professor Sarah Lewis, Nottingham University for Smoking Still Kills

[6] Healthy lives, healthy people, Tobacco Control Plan for England

[7] Research undertaken by Howard Reed, Landman Economics, for Smoking Still Kills.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was established in 1971 by the Royal College of Physicians. It is a campaigning public health charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco.
ASH receives core funding from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.