Smokers in the UK are much more likely to buy cheap cigarettes at a discount outlet than smokers in Australia, Canada and the USA.

According to a new study published online in Tobacco Control almost 20 per cent of UK smokers questioned in a poll of 6682 smokers from four countries last bought cigarettes from low or untaxed venues.

This compared with just one per cent of Australian smokers, 3.7 per cent of Canadian smokers and 6 per cent of American smokers.

The survey also found that older, white, English speaking smokers with a higher income and a higher standard of education were more likely to buy cigarettes at discount outlets than other smokers.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “High cigarette prices are key to reducing smoking. This study shows that the availability of low or untaxed cigarettes can undermine the public health benefit of increased cigarette excise taxes”.

“In the UK where cigarettes are relatively expensive (about twice the cost of US cigarettes) it seems that high prices are encouraging people to search for places where they can buy low or untaxed cigarettes”.

The survey also showed that smokers who bought their cigarettes at low cost outlets were less likely to attempt to quit smoking than those who bought full price cigarettes.

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: “This study suggests that higher taxes on cigarettes will have less effect on the consumers’ smoking rate when they can readily find outlets that sell cheap cigarettes. The paper also makes it clear that smokers who buy low or untaxed cigarettes are less likely to try to stop smoking”.

For full paper visit the BMJ Journals website.

For media enquiries contact Sally Staples at the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours duty press officer on 07050 264059


Smoking is the biggest single cause of cancer in the world. Price is an important factor in reducing cigarette consumption especially in young people. Therefore increasing taxes is one of the key elements of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control – the world’s first public health treaty.

In the UK tobacco:

  • causes over one in four cancer deaths
  • causes nine out of ten cases of lung cancer

Smoking increases your risk of cancer of the bladder, cervix, kidney, larynx (voice box), mouth, oesophagus (foodpipe), pancreas, stomach and some types of leukaemia. Smokeless or chewing tobacco can cause mouth cancer. Half of all smokers die from smoking related diseases.

Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke and chronic lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema.

Smokers are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. And for women, smoking whilst taking the Pill greatly increases your risk of having a heart attack.

Smoking in the UK

Over a quarter of UK adults smoke cigarettes. Smoking is highest amongst those aged 20-34 and in lower income groups. The worrying reality is that almost as many young people are starting to smoke as there are older people giving up. Breathing in other people’s smoke also causes 700 premature deaths a year in the UK.

Smoking kills five times more people in the UK than road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV all put together.

Reasons to quit

There is no safe level of tobacco use. Your risk of getting lung cancer increases with:

  • the more years you continue to smoke
  • the more cigarettes you smoke

Cutting down on cigarettes will not significantly improve your health. You are better off stopping altogether. Your health will start improving from the moment you stop smoking or chewing tobacco. Giving up tobacco will make you healthier, fitter and save you money.