By Ana-maria Gheorghiu
It has been announced that tobacco duties are to be raised by 5% - an equivalent to 37p on the price of a packet of cigarettes. About 10 million people in the UK smoke cigarettes, according to anti-smoking charity ASH. But with prices already much higher than in other European countries (more than double the price of Spain) notwithstanding the current financial climate, British smokers are unhappy, to say the least.
At first sight, this increase in price may seem ridiculous to the regular smoker – 37p extra each time you fancy a packet of fags could add up quickly and get quite costly. The government has been accused of financially exploiting addicts because ‘smokers don’t choose to smoke’, as well as encouraging the practice of smuggling, an area in which the HMRC is already overworked.
Nevertheless, it seems that there will always be consumers that will turn to the black market or buy their tobacco abroad. It is inevitable that smuggling will always exist, no matter how high or low the prices of cigarettes are. What is not inevitable, or invincible, however, is our health.
As a non-smoker myself, I can clearly see the benefits of this proposal. If it means that after checking the change in your wallet, you hesitate more over the counter, this could only be a good thing. Those who are not yet addicted may even be prevented from becoming addicted as higher prices of cigarettes will discourage people from buying them in the first place.
Not only will quitting reduce your risk of developing illness, disability or death caused by cancer, heart or lung disease, but those around you will also not be exposed to second-hand smoke. The chancellor has finally listened to the voices of the health community and taken decisive action to tackle the greatest single cause of ill health and premature death. The money from this tax will be well-used as healthcare is finally given its due importance.
But not all agree.
Twitter was overtaken by storms of anger from smokers. Some went out to panic-buy, fuming all the way to the newsagent. They felt their right to smoke was being violated, constrained and limited. They claimed that they should be able to liberally harm themselves, and smoke in comfort if they so wish, without the control of the government. This childish mindset baffled me most of all. So, smokers will continue to smoke just to spite the government? And expect the taxpayer to foot the bill when it all goes wrong? Just like a stubborn teenager challenging authority, this is precisely why the increase is so important. People need to stop acting like rebellious kids, and stop being so selfish and narrow-minded. If they aren’t going to look after themselves and those around them, perhaps they do really need an authoritative hand in the matter.
Although the duty increase has doubled the combined tax taken from the two previous budgets, the tax that we pay goes towards all of the quitting schemes and health packs from the NHS anyway. Smoking costs the NHS five times as much as previously thought, researchers have calculated. “This is money being drained out of the NHS as a direct result of something we have the power to prevent” said Betty McBride from the British Heart Foundation in 2009. Non-smokers are paying a lot more than 37p in taxes towards smokers health. The least the smokers can do is pay a price too.
It may not make me popular to say as much, but ideally, we should combat all addictions, not just smoking. Now that anti-smoking measures are in place, the government should definitely concentrate more on drugs and alcohol, too. Let’s start as we mean to go on!