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20 pence on a pack of cigarettes

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by Cancer Research UK | News

10 October 2006

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Hiking up the price of a pack of cigarettes by 20 pence is the Government’s best hope of reaching its 2010 target to reduce the proportion of adult smokers to 21 per cent – researchers were told today (Tuesday) at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Birmingham.

Professor Robert West, director of tobacco studies at Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Unit, made the case for the measure explaining that the £350-400 million funds generated should all be used to fund a ‘tobacco control task force’. This would enable properly resourced, evidence based tobacco control activities to drive smoking rates down progressively.

However, in year one, the price rise alone would likely reduce the number of people who smoke by one per cent, eventually saving a staggering 100,000 lives.

The UK has proved one of the most successful countries in the world at tackling its smoking epidemic but much more needs to be done. A quarter of the population smokes and this number is only being reduced by an average 0.4 percent a year. At this rate, the Government will fall short of its modest 2010 goal.

Professor West said: “The UK is a world leader in helping smokers quit but efforts are stalling and unless new initiatives are introduced, hundreds of thousands of people will develop smoking related diseases and many will die as a result. Putting 20 pence on a pack of cigarettes would not only have an immediate effect on smoking, ultimately saving 100,000 lives, through the new task force it has the potential to kick-start the next big decline in UK smoking prevalence.”

Devising and implementing measures to tackle smuggling would be a major focus of the tobacco control task force. And, as the bulk of tobacco smuggling is not down to white van owners crossing the Channel to make a quick profit on price differentials but due to large-scale evasion of any duty by organised crime, the initiative is unlikely to significantly increase illegal activity.

Professor West also addressed concerns that the price rise would drive lower income smokers further into poverty. He explained: “It’s important to remember that the vast majority of smokers want to quit. We have a duty to support their motivation to do so and make sure they have ready access to treatment. Evidence from elsewhere* indicates that smokers who are less well off are most likely to stop smoking in response to higher prices. And those that do not stop will cut down, reducing their costs.”

Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “With smokefree legislation soon to come into effect, the UK is proud to be leading the way on tobacco control. But with about 12 million smokers – half of whom will die from a smoking related disease – we must not become complacent in our efforts to help them quit. We must look carefully at any initiative that has the potential to drastically reduce smoking rates because doing so would save hundreds of thousands of lives.”

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