ASH comment on Budget: Missed opportunity

29 October 2018

ASH comment on Budget: Missed opportunity


Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is pleased to see that the minimum excise tax (MET) on cigarettes has been uprated from £5.60 to £5.88 in the Budget today. [1] Increasing the MET raises the price of the cheapest cigarettes and discourages smokers switching to cheaper brands instead of quitting smoking altogether (the MET will apply to any cigarettes sold at or below £7.96, previously it was those sold below £7.63).


However, ASH is disappointed that the Chancellor has not increased the annual tobacco tax escalator from 2% to 5% above inflation (RPI) as recommended by ASH and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies in its submission to the Chancellor.[2] Reducing the affordability of tobacco is recognised to be the most effective way of reducing smoking prevalence and the higher the escalator above inflation, the greater the impact it has. [3]


Furthermore the additional tax applied to handrolled tobacco (3% above inflation for handrolled compared to 2% for factory made) still leaves taxes on handrolled considerably lower. While the minimum tax on a pack of 20 factory made cigarettes is now £5.88 (or about 29 pence per cigarette), tax on handrolled is still less than half this, at £2.35 for twenty roll-your-own cigarettes (this is equivalent to just under 12 pence per cigarette, using the average weight per handrolled cigarette of 0.5 grams).[4]


Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, said:


ASH is disappointed that the government has wasted a golden opportunity for a win-win on public health and government revenues in today’s Budget. If they’d simultaneously increased the tobacco tax escalator, and significantly reduced the tax differential between manufactured cigarettes and handrolled tobacco they would have discouraged smoking while at the same time increasing the total tax take.” 


ASH is also disappointed that the Government has not taken up the recommendation that a levy be placed on the tobacco transnationals to support activity to reduce smoking prevalence, based on their sales of combustible products in the UK. [2] The UK as a party to the WHO FCTC, the international tobacco treaty, is legally prohibited from allowing any industry involvement in the setting and implementing of its public health policy and the proposal requires this to be implemented through legislation and to be completely independent from the industry.[5] Given the recent advertising campaign and “offers” of help from PMI it is clear the industry has the money to pay for such a scheme. [6]




Notes and Links:


Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:


ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.


ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information send an email to or ring 020 7404 0242. Out of hours contact Deborah Arnott (Chief Executive, ASH) on 07976 935 987 or Hazel Cheeseman (Director of Policy, ASH) on 07754 358 593.




[1] HM Treasury and The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Budget 2018. Available from:


[2] ASH UKCTAS Budget submission endorsed by 19 other health organisations. Available from:


[3] Chaloupka F, Yurekli A, Fong G. Tobacco taxes as a tobacco control strategy. Tobacco Control 2012; 21:172-180. 


[4] J Robert Branston, Ann McNeill, Anna Gilmore, Rosemary Hiscock, Timea R Partos (2018, forthcoming), “Keeping smoking affordable in higher tax environments via smoking thinner Roll-Your-Own cigarettes: Findings from the International Tobacco Control Four-Country Survey 2006-15”, forthcoming in Drug and Alcohol Dependence


[5] WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines Available from:,-article-8,-article-11-and-article-13


[6] PMI ‘Hold My Light’ Campaign launched on Monday 22October see: