The tax, both excise duty and VAT, raised through the sale of tobacco products continues to be a major source of revenue for the Government, contributing around £12 billion annually. This is, according to the Treasury, equivalent to more than 2 pence on the basic rate of income tax or over 11 pence on the top rate of income tax.
On a typical pack of 20 cigarettes the total tax burden of £6.98 accounts for 82% of the recommended retail price (RRP) of £8.50. On some of the least expensive brands the total tax burden accounts for up to 90% of the RRP.
It has been the policy of successive Governments to maintain a high level of tax on tobacco products in order to reduce tobacco consumption and the prevalence of smoking. Between 1993 and 2000 a tobacco duty ‘escalator’, which introduced year-on-year above inflation increases in tobacco duty, was implemented with the aim of reducing consumption still further.
This policy has resulted in taxes on tobacco products in the UK being amongst the highest in the world and comfortably ahead of those in other EU Member States. For example, in March 2017 the price of a typical pack of premium cigarettes in the UK was £9.91 while in Belgium the price was about £5.12, in Spain it was around £3.93 and Poland it was around £2.81. The differences in the price of handrolling tobacco (HRT) are even more marked. A 50g pouch, which costs £19.99 in the UK, can be purchased in Belgium for around £7.40.
The TMA believes that the Government should undertake a comprehensive review of the fiscal impact of tobacco policy which has increased taxes on an average pack of 20 cigarettes by more than 65% since 2010. Continually raising tobacco taxes only results in piling pressure on consumers’ budgets and, incentivises consumers to purchase tobacco through illegal channels, either in the UK or from abroad.