New evidence on tobacco smuggling presented to Health Select Committee

Thursday 22 May 2008

Evidence being presented to a Health Select Committee hearing on health inequalities today will show that tobacco smuggling is exacerbating health inequalities and may also be discouraging younger smokers from quitting. Research commissioned by ASH reveals that 1 in 20 smokers in professional groups admit to buying smuggled tobacco but among poorer smokers the figure rises to 1 in 5. [1] There is also a strong association with age: the survey revealed that 1 in 3 of the youngest smokers in the sample (16-24 year olds) reported buying cigarettes from illicit sources.

Price is an important tool in reducing smoking rates but access to cheap tobacco can undermine a smoker’s efforts to quit. The solution is not to reduce price but to tackle the illegal trade in tobacco. In fact, ASH’s research revealed a high level of support for strong measures to curb tobacco smuggling, even among smokers. In a separate YouGov poll of over 3,000 adults across Great Britain 75% of adults, including 48% of smokers, supported a “crackdown on smuggling”.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

“Increasing the price through taxation is the most effective lever in helping smokers to quit and has been found to be more effective with poorer and younger smokers. But the easy availability of cheap smuggled tobacco is undermining this important policy. If the Government is serious about wanting to reduce health inequalities then it must do more to stop the illicit trade in tobacco.

“ASH is calling on the Government to make tackling tobacco smuggling a priority for the new Borders Agency. Failure to do so will result in a slow down of the decline in smoking and further increase the health divide between rich and poor.”
Notes and links:
[1] The Smoking Toolkit Study is a monthly series of national household surveys with smokers and recent ex-smokers being followed up for six months. Data collection began in October 2006. Questions on smuggling are funded by Action on Smoking and Health. The study overall is currently funded by Cancer Research UK, J&J Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. The fieldwork is undertaken by the British Market Research Bureau (BRMB).

[2] YouGov survey. Total sample size was 3,329 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th – 25th February 2008. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18 ).

Contact: Deborah Arnott 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available