New report says tobacco companies should be forced to pay the cost of reducing smoking rates to save lives

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Following Government threats of cuts to local public health budgets a new report says tobacco companies should be forced to pay the cost of reducing smoking.

More than 120 public health-related organisations have joined Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) today to call on the Government to impose an annual levy on tobacco companies.

The money raised would pay for evidence-based tobacco control and stop smoking services. This could save thousands of lives in the East of England over the next decade, reduce the number of people living in poverty and save the NHS badly needed money.

Smoking Still Kills, an ambitious five-year tobacco strategy, is being launched the week after the Chancellor announced that the Department of Health would have to make £200 million of savings from its budget for non-NHS services to come from cuts to council-controlled public health budgets.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of action on smoking and health, said: “The NHS faces a £22 billion funding gap by 2020 which the NHS five-year forward view makes clear can only be bridged by a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. Otherwise there will be major cuts in services.

“To cut local authorities’ public health budgets at this time would be pinching pennies to waste pounds. The government has already consulted on a levy on the tobacco industry to pay for the damage it does; the time to go ahead is now, with the money raised used to fund prevention and public health.”

Every year smoking costs the NHS in the East of England and East Midlands at least £325 million and a further £2.3 billion in wider costs to society. The Smoking Still Kills report highlights the need for investment at every level: locally, nationally and regionally.

Peter Kellner, Chair of the Smoking Still Kills Editorial Board and President, YouGov, said: “The NHS is facing an acute funding shortage and any serious strategy to address this must tackle the causes of preventable ill health.

“The tobacco companies, which last year made over a £1 billion in profit, are responsible for the premature deaths of 80,000 people in England each year, and should be forced to pay for the harm they cause.

“Investing in evidence-based measures that reduce smoking is highly cost effective; for example Stop Smoking Services have been shown to be one of the most cost effective ways to improve people’s health. Placing a levy on tobacco companies to fund such work is a win-win – saving both money and lives.”

In the March budget earlier this year the Chancellor committed the Government to continue the consultation on imposing a levy on tobacco companies

The new report calls for:

* A new vision for the country with ambitious target of achieving 5% smoking rate by 2035: No one should be left behind as we achieve a tobacco free future and health inequalities must not be allowed to widen

* A new comprehensive five-year Government tobacco strategy for England: Comprehensive approach is vital - 70,000 lives have been saved due to falling smoking rates since 1998, when the first comprehensive government strategy on tobacco, Smoking Kills, was published.

* A new approach to funding, annual levy on tobacco companies to fund tobacco control: Tobacco companies make over £1bn in profit in the UK and the harms from smoking to society are significant. They should pay to address the harms they cause.

* A comprehensive package of measures: taken together the recommendations in this report are designed to set us on the path to a smokefree future by 2035.

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of British Heart Foundation, said: “We need a comprehensive new strategy, sustained investment in tobacco control and strong political will to show we are serious about reducing the devastating damage that smoking causes.

“By cutting smoking rates further, we can reduce the rate of heart attacks almost immediately, and deliver longer term benefits by reducing cardiovascular conditions that cause so much suffering and cost the country dearly.”

Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Any strategy to prevent cancer in this country must have a strong focus on tobacco.

“Smoking Still Kills provides a blueprint for the Government to show it remains seriously committed to tackling tobacco over the next five years.

“The real cost of this lethal and addictive product is borne by the people who suffer its effects through cancer and other diseases. But there is also a financial cost to the NHS and to society.

“This should be picked up by the tobacco companies themselves, who have been the agents of an epidemic which continues to impose a devastating economic and social burden on this country.”