Smokers’ rights group Forest is urging the U.K. government to freeze excise duty on tobacco in its March 15 budget after a poll found that almost two thirds of respondents (65 percent) believe the tax on tobacco in the United Kingdom is already “about right” (38 percent) or “too high” (27 percent).
Only one in five (20 percent) of those asked think the tax on tobacco is “too low,” while 15 percent said they “don’t know.”
Conducted on behalf of Forest by Yonder, the poll follows a recent report that the cost of a pack of cigarettes could go up by £1.15 ($1.36) after the Budget, while a 30-gram pouch of hand-rolled tobacco could rise by £2, if Chancellor Jeremy Hunt decides to stick with the annual tobacco escalator of inflation plus 2 percent.
The poll also found that 62 percent 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 percent of respondents believe this is not an “understandable” response. Sixteen percent said they “don’t know.”
According to the survey, Brits also believe that the government has more pressing concerns than tackling smoking.
Asked to consider a list of 10 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 percent), followed by improving the health service by providing more beds, frontline staff and cutting waiting lists (48 percent), tackling inflation (40 percent), and addressing care for the elderly (32 percent).
Other top priorities included tackling climate change (28 percent), the housing shortage (26 percent), and helping businesses recover from the impact of the pandemic (17 percent).
Tackling smoking was bottom of the list (10 percent), alongside tackling obesity (10 percent), and tackling misuse of alcohol (9 percent).
“The chancellor should freeze duty on tobacco and give smokers a break,” said Forest Director Simon Clark.
“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.”