Big tobacco must follow energy and banks to pay its fair share from its excessive profits
In advance of the Autumn statement next week the influential All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health are calling on the Chancellor to make Big Tobacco to pay for the shortfall in funding for tobacco control and public health.
Economists estimate that an immediate windfall tax on the tobacco transnationals could raise £74 million a year, and the addition a ‘polluter pays’ levy to limit Big Tobacco’s profits to the 10% average for business could raise £700 million a year.
Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East and Chairman of the All Party Group on Smoking and Health said: “Banks and energy companies have been made subject to windfall taxes, so why not the tobacco manufacturers, who make eye wateringly high profits from products which kill two out of three lifelong customers.
“Four manufacturers, BAT, Imperial, JTI and PMI are responsible for over 95% of UK tobacco sales and the same proportion of deaths. A windfall tax could be implemented immediately to raise £74 million a year, but tobacco companies are very good at minimising their tax liabilities. That’s why we’re calling on the Chancellor to back this up with a ‘polluter pays’ levy which by limiting Big Tobacco’s profits to the 10% average for business could raise hundreds of millions a year.”
Reducing smoking would also help ease pressures on family budgets with the average smoker spending around £2,000 a year to fund an addiction which for most starts in childhood. It would also reduce the £17bn a year smoking costs the UK economy, the NHS and local authority social care.
Alex Cunningham Labour MP for Stockton on Tees and vice chairman of the All Party Group on Smoking and Health said: “ Tobacco excise taxes raise around £10 billion a year but this money doesn’t come from the tobacco industry, but from the pockets of smokers, who spend on average £2,000 a year on smoking.
“The funding to help smokers quit is measured in millions not billions, and has been cut by a third since 2015. As Javed Khan pointed out funding is needed to deliver the Government’s smokefree 2030 ambition, which will increase economic growth, and healthy life expectancy; while reducing pressure on the health and social care system, and helping level up society. We call on the Chancellor to announce in the Autumn statement that he’s going to make Big Tobacco pay to help smokers quit, through a windfall tax backed up by a ‘polluter pays’ levy.”
Ex-smoker Sue Mountain, from South Tyneside, underwent laser treatment in 2012 after a biopsy revealed she had laryngeal cancer. The cancer returned in 2017 which required radiotherapy every day for four weeks.
Sue said: “Like most people who smoke now or smoked, I started as a kid, before I realised how addictive it was. I don’t want my grandchildren to go through what I went through. I could have bought half a house on the money I spent on smoking. Instead I spent it on an addiction that gave me cancer.
“But I’m one of the lucky ones. Smoking makes life a misery for many thousands of people who suffer from debilitating diseases before it kills them. It’s shocking that tobacco companies are making massive profits from an addiction that robs people of their lives and their health. Everyone is having to make savings right now. I believe they need to pay for the damage they do and fund work to reduce smoking.”
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Cutting smoking is not just vital for our health but good for smokers’ pockets, our economy and the financial wellbeing of the UK.
“Driving down smoking reduces pressure on the health and social care system and will allow the government to deliver on its levelling up mission for health and wellbeing.”
Around three quarters of adults (76%) and tobacco retailers (73%) in England support a levy on manufacturers to pay for tobacco control measures.1 2
In the UK, in 2019, 14.1% of people aged 18 years and above smoke cigarettes, which equates to around 6.9 million people, based on estimates from the Annual Population Survey (APS).
The recent Khan Review “Making Smoking Obsolete” report sets out a case for comprehensive investment of an additional £125 million per year in tobacco control measures to deliver the government’s smokefree 2030 ambition.
It recommended that if the government cannot fund this themselves, they should ‘make the polluter pay’ and either introduce a tobacco industry levy, or generate additional corporation tax.
UK Government Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty in 2021 commented that one in five cancer deaths are from lung cancer which is “almost entirely' caused for a small number of cigarette companies to make profit.”
Speaking recently at a symposium on medical ethics held by the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, Sir Chris said: “Smoking is the biggest driver that we could easily deal with in the sense of the inequalities we see across the UK. It is an appalling way to die, it kills people in multiple ways.
“Everyone in this room I suspect would agree that getting smoking down to zero and destroying the cigarette industry should be an aim of public health, and I would say that very categorically.”
Sir Chris said that there was a “legitimate point” about adults being allowed to make their own choices, but warned governments often faced lobbying from vested interests. He said it is important for the state to intervene in industries based on addiction.