Tobacco companies will be hit with an additional annual levy of up to £700million under sweeping ‘polluter pays’ proposals put forward by the government’s anti-tobacco czar.
Javed Khan, the former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said some of the world’s biggest companies should be paying for smoke-free reforms instead of the NHS.
Mr Khan has been asked by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to lead an independent review into how England will achieve its target of reducing smoking prevalence to less than 5% by 2030. Scotland aims to achieve the target by 2034. It will report on its findings. in mid-May.
Mr Khan is considering whether to advise ministers to raise the minimum smoking age to 21, 25 or opt for a more radical ‘New Zealand’ approach banning smoking for anyone born after 2008. Electronic cigarettes could also become available on NHS prescription. .
Taxing the profits of British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Philip Morris International, the company behind Marlboro, is not “so radical”, he insisted.
“The public is often led to believe that smoking is a personal choice. When really smoking is an addiction, which is promoted by an industry that cares very little about life or health,” Mr Khan added.
“The recommendations I’m going to make which are still being worked on and finalized – there will be a cost attached. I’m going to tell the government they need to invest money to provide a comprehensive response to get us to a 2030 smoke free.
“The big question I also ask is: should taxpayers really pay the consequences? Why not make the polluter pay? Why not introduce a polluter tax on the corporate tax increase for the tobacco industry? »
Tory MP Bob Blackman, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, said: “A potential tax on the profits of big tobacco companies could raise £700million a year which could then be earmarked for services of smoking cessation. – and reduce the cost to the National Health Service of people who smoke.
The Health Secretary sees smoking as “a big leveling issue”, according to government sources. Smoking prevalence is approaching 30% in low-income areas such as the North of England and the Midlands, compared to a national average of 13%.
Mr Khan said: “A lot of people think smoking is no longer a problem. But across the UK there are still seven million smokers. And statistically, two-thirds of them are at risk of dying because of it.
E-cigarettes are likely to be a central part of Mr Khan’s proposals, despite some uncertainty about their long-term effects.
He said: “I am seriously considering the possible promotion of vaping as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Because the bulk of the evidence around the world is pretty clear that vaping is significantly less harmful. There are people who disagree with this, but the vast majority do not.
“So there seems to be a strong case for promoting vaping, even potentially medically licensed vaping. So vaping on prescription, why not?
He continued: “My job is to lay out the rationale and give [the Government] a few options to choose from. The polluter-pays tax is one of them.