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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Evidence from around the world suggests that a comprehensive tobacco control strategy using price as a cornerstone can work. For example, smoking rates in California have dropped by a third to 15 per cent since 1988 when they introduced a tobacco control strategy funded by an increase in cigarette taxes. And in the Australian state of Victoria, where tax was increased by 18 per cent from 1993 to 1994 and part of the money used to fund tobacco control, the proportion of smokers has fallen to 17 per cent.

Preliminary results from a new European Survey on Tobacco Control Attitudes and Knowledge suggest that the measure would carry public support in the UK. Forty nine per cent of UK respondents – which included smokers and non-smokers – agreed that taxes on cigarettes should be increased to discourage smoking compared with thirty five per cent who disagreed. Fifty five per cent said that taxes should be raised to prevent take up of smoking by minors compared with thirty one per cent who disagreed. And fifty four per cent agreed that tobacco industry profits should be taxed to discourage cigarette production compared with 30 per cent who disagreed.

*Levy DP et al. 2004. The Journal of Public Health and Management Practice. Vol 10 pp338-353. The effects of tobacco control policies on smoking rates: a tobacco control scorecard.


Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world, and accounts for one in four UK cancer deaths.

Smoking causes nine in ten cases of lung cancer. Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers, and is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK. The good news is that most of these deaths are preventable, by giving up smoking in time.

Smoking also increases the risk of over a dozen other cancers including cancers of the mouth, voice box, food pipe, liver, pancreas, stomach, kidney, bladder, and cervix, as well as some types of leukaemia.

About the NCRI:

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) was established in April 2001. It is a partnership between government, the voluntary sector and the private sector, with the primary mission of maximising patient benefit that accrues from cancer research in the UK through coordination of effort and joint planning towards an integrated national strategy for cancer research. Click here to visit the NCRI website.

The NCRI consists of: The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI); The Association for International Cancer Research; The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Breakthrough Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer Campaign; Cancer Research UK; Department of Health; Economic and Social Research Council; Leukaemia Research Fund; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Macmillan Cancer

Support; Marie Curie Cancer Care; The Medical Research Council; Northern Ireland Health and Personal Social Services Research & Development Office; Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Scottish Executive Health Department; Tenovus; Wales Office of Research and Development for Health & Social Care; Wellcome Trust; and Yorkshire Cancer Research.

AstraZeneca is the gold sponsor for the NCRI Cancer Conference 2006.