Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Ash calls for 5% increase in tobacco tax

A cigarette being smoked
Ash says many smoking addictions start in childhood

A five per cent rise in tobacco tax would lead to a substantial drop in the number of smokers and save millions in health costs, a UK charity suggests.

Such an increase would discourage children from buying cigarettes and help adults quit, a report by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) says.

Its chief executive, Deborah Arnott, said: "Smoking is a childhood addiction and not an adult choice."

But smokers' rights lobby group Forest said cigarette smugglers would gain.

Director Simon Clark said: "The only people who will benefit from raising tobacco taxation by this amount are the criminal gangs who will smuggle millions of cheap cigarettes into the country from Eastern Europe and elsewhere."

Health benefits

He added that many counterfeit cigarettes would be sold in pubs and on street corners on the black market, costing the Treasury up to £3bn a year.

Support for a five per cent price rise above inflation comes from Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID).

Ash's report says that raising tobacco prices would reduce the number of smokers by 190,000 and save the NHS more than £20m a year by cutting the cost of treating smoking-related diseases.

It also claims a tax rise would also reduce smoking-related absenteeism in the workplace, saving more than £10m a year.

Supporters also say government tax revenues would be boosted by more than £500m a year and result in wider economic benefits in the first five years of more than £270m a year.

Ash outlines its call on tobacco prices in a pre-Budget submission to the Treasury.

Its head, Ms Arnott, said: "By increasing tobacco taxation, we help to discourage children from buying cigarettes. An above-inflation rise would also help adults stop smoking."

FSID director Joyce Epstein said: "Scientific evidence shows that every year the lives of over 100 UK infants could be saved if no pregnant woman smoked.

"Smoking by fathers increases the risk of infant death as well. Our organisation supports increasing the price of tobacco because it will encourage smokers to consider quitting and so protect their children."

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