Cheap tobacco undermines smoking cessation

Researchers from King’s College London have warned the availability of cheap tobacco is undermining efforts to quit smoking.Tobacco

Published in the Journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, the study indicated that the effectiveness of price increases as a deterrent to cut smoking is being undermined by the availability of cheap tobacco, including roll-your-own and cartons of factory-made cigarettes.

In the study, researchers at King’s College London and the University of Bath analysed data from more than 6,000 smokers to look at the price UK adults paid for tobacco between 2002 and 2014. Their study compared buying tobacco from conventional outlets, such as supermarkets, with buying from informal sellers, including friends or duty-free sources.

The researchers showed that, by switching brands, smokers could easily and legally obtain tobacco in conventional stores at the same prices they would have paid in 2002. In 2014, the most expensive available pack of 20 factory-made cigarettes cost around £10, whereas the cheapest cost only around £5.33.

The study argued that the widening gap between the cheapest and most expensive products is evidence of the tobacco industry introducing a wider variety of brands to cater to some smokers’ declining budgets. Thus despite regular tax increases over this period, factory-made cigarettes only increased by an average of 10 pence per cigarette.

The study also highlighted that in the UK roll-your-own tobacco is taxed at a lower rate than factory-made cigarettes and is considerably cheaper. From 2002-2014, smokers using roll-your-own almost doubled, with its use particularly prevalent in younger smokers. The price increase in roll-your-own was even lower than that of factory-made cigarettes. By 2014, the cheapest roll-your-own tobacco could be purchased at around £1.63 for 10 grams, roughly equivalent to 20 cigarettes.

This study provides evidence that marked tax increases have not resulted in price increases large enough to necessarily motivate smokers of cheap products to quit.

Lead author, Dr Timea Partos of the Addictions Department at King’s College London, explained:

Increasing tobacco prices is known to be one of the best deterrents to reduce smoking, but an increase in availability of cheaper products in conventional stores in response to this appears to be thwarting public health campaigns.
Policy-makers need to focus on regulating tobacco prices so that the tobacco industry is not able to undermine tax increases by offering such a wide range of cigarette prices.

The King’s Health Partners Addictions Clinical Academic Group is one of the largest providers of NHS addictions services in the UK, covering illicit drugs, and alcohol and tobacco addiction.

Read more on the King’s College London website.

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