Call for tobacco levy to help smokers quit
A levy on the tobacco industry is needed to help fund anti-smoking measures, health campaigners say.
The 120 health groups led by Action on Smoking and Health want the annual levy to pay for more stop-smoking clinics and enhanced media campaigns.
They say it should form part of a renewed push to reduce smoking rates.
Ministers said they would consider the suggestions, but the industry accused campaigners of a "dogmatic, un-evidenced" attack.
More than three-quarters of the cost of a packet of cigarettes already goes on tax.
But the health groups, which have put their names to a report produced by Ash, have argued that a levy would ensure the money raised would go directly to fund anti-smoking measures.
The cost of smoking
- The average cost of pack of 20 premium-brand cigarettes was £7.98 in 2014 - over £6 of which is tax
- The Treasury received £9.5bn in revenue from tobacco duties - this amounts to 2% of all government revenue
- Once the VAT on cigarettes is included the revenues top £12bn - the equivalent to more than 10% of the NHS budget
Every year, treating illnesses caused by smoking costs the NHS at least £2bn, while the industry makes more than £1bn in profits.
The groups said there should be a particular emphasis on improving the support in the most deprived areas where smoking rates are higher.
They also said a new licensing regime should be introduced - similar to the one used for alcohol - to give local authorities more powers to tackle irresponsible retailers.
Together, these measures would help drive down the smoking rates among adults from 20% to less than 10% by 2025.
Peter Kellner, who authored the report produced by Ash, said: "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 should be forced to pay for the harm they cause."
But Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said Ash was just "trying to find new ways to attack smokers and a legitimate industry" following the ban on smoking in cars and restriction on tobacco displays in shops.
"Aside from the unwarranted intrusion on individual freedoms, this continued drive to over-regulate the UK tobacco market will simply create greater opportunities for organised crime groups involved in smuggling on a massive scale.
"These proposals are an unprecedented, un-evidenced, dogmatic attack on a legal industry that would have hugely damaging consequences."
The government has already said it will consider a levy and is now committing to producing a new smoking strategy.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: "Smoking rates are at the lowest ever level but it still remains the biggest preventable killer in England.
"We have taken bold steps to help protect the public. We will read this report with interest as we develop our new tobacco strategy."