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We need a polluter levy on tobacco firms to help smokers quit

2 min read

I warmly endorse Javed Khan’s recommendations and particularly welcome his top priority, which is immediate and substantially increased funding for preventive measures to reduce the harm done by smoking.

These will help the government achieve its target of smoke-free by 2030, and support its levelling up agenda. The Secretary of State has rightly said that it is a moral outrage that the most well-off in this country live 10 years longer than the poorest, and the leading cause for this difference is smoking.

But this increased funding cannot come from the taxpayer; Javed Khan suggests a “polluter pays” levy. This would not be a tax passed on to the smoker, potentially impacting on the RPI, but would be modelled on the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, which has been in operation for over 40 years and is overseen by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). It has teams of analysts who already have the skills to administer a scheme for cigarettes, a much simpler product to administer than pharmaceutical medicines and would be based on turnover and profits.

Seventy-seven per cent support manufacturers paying a levy or licence fee

My party may be concerned at the moment about its popularity, so they will be relieved to hear that the levy is popular. Seventy-seven per cent support manufacturers paying a levy or licence fee to the government to help smokers quit, with just 6 per cent opposing.

The government have said that they accept the polluter pays principle. My party has form in implementing that principle through the landfill levy, the tax on sugar in soft drinks, and requiring developers to pay for the costs of remediating building safety defects. And the government promised when they launched the smoke-free ambition in 2019 to consider funding tobacco control and smoking cessation through a levy. So, there is nothing here alien to our philosophy.

And there is much else in the report I support, such as looking at age restrictions. He even mentions something I tried as a health minister over 40 years ago – getting the health warning printed on the cigarettes as well as on the packs. The industry told me they couldn’t do that as the ink was carcinogenic!

We now have a real opportunity to build on these recommendations and make progress on smoking cessation and prevention. Down in the House of Lords, we will be holding the government’s feet to the fire!


Lord Cookham is a Conservative peer and former health minister. 

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