Budget: freeze duty on tobacco and “give smokers a break”, say campaigners

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is being urged to freeze excise duty on tobacco in next week’s Budget after a poll found that almost two thirds of respondents (65 per cent) believe the tax on tobacco is already “about right” (38 per cent) or “too high” (27 per cent).

Only one in five (20 per cent) of those asked think the tax on tobacco is “too low”, while 15 per cent said they “don’t know”.

The poll, which was conducted by Yonder for the smokers’ group Forest, follows a recent report that the cost of a pack of cigarettes could go up by £1.15 after the Budget, while a 30g pouch of hand-rolled tobacco could rise by £2, if the Chancellor sticks with the annual tobacco escalator of inflation plus two per cent.

The poll also found that 62 per cent of adults think that purchasing tobacco from the black market is an “understandable” response given the high cost of tobacco sold legally in the United Kingdom, whereas only 22 per cent of respondents believe this is not an “understandable” response. 16 per cent said they “don’t know”.

Brits also believe that the government has more pressing concerns than tackling smoking.

Asked to consider a list of ten issues for the government to address in 2023, respondents said tackling the rising cost of household utilities such as electricity and gas is the most important priority (54 per cent), followed by improving the health service by providing more beds, frontline staff and cutting waiting lists (48 per cent), tackling inflation (40 per cent), and addressing care for the elderly (32 per cent).

Other top priorities included tackling climate change (28 per cent), the housing shortage (26 per cent), and helping businesses recover from the impact of the pandemic (17 per cent).

Tackling smoking was bottom of the list (10 per cent), alongside tackling obesity (10 per cent), and tackling misuse of alcohol (9 per cent).

“The Chancellor should freeze duty on tobacco and give smokers a break,” said Simon Clark, director of Forest. “Raising the tax on tobacco not only discriminates against poorer smokers, it will drive more consumers to the unregulated black market.

“This is bad news for legitimate retailers and bad news for the Treasury which could lose billions of pounds in revenue if more consumers buy their tobacco from illicit traders. Significantly, there is very little stigma attached to buying tobacco on the black market.

“In a cost of living crisis the public understands that many consumers will opt for the cheaper option, even if it’s illegal,” he added.