By Verena Vogt
Anti-smoking campaigners have urged Chancellor George Osborne to increase the tobacco "tax escalator" from 2% to 5% above inflation year-on-year when he announces his Budget next week.
A coalition of 80 health charities and experts claim that 100,000 people or more would quit smoking within one year alone if Mr Osborne followed their call.
A report from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies argues that the move would lead to extra income of £485 million for the government in the first year and £7.4 billion over the next five years.
Encouraging smokers to quit
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said: "Raising the price of tobacco through taxation is the most effective way of reducing smoking and saving lives.
"Increasing taxes is a win-win for government - it raises much-needed revenue and encourages smokers to quit a deadly addiction.
"That is why we are calling on the Chancellor to be bold and raise the tax by 5% above inflation to further motivate smokers to quit."
The study is backed by NHS groups of doctors, directors of public health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal College of Physicians.
It says that the move would reduce the number of smokers in the UK by 104,000 in the first year, which would lead to 479 fewer smoking-related deaths initially.
And if Mr Osborne decided to increase the tax escalator to 15% rise above inflation for hand-rolled tobacco, even more lives could be saved and more revenue brought in, the report suggests.
No Smoking Day
Charities such as the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation also back the study.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of BHF, said: "This is not about nanny state intervention. This is about a practical measure that saves lives - and one that people who've managed to break their addiction to tobacco say will help.
"We know two-thirds of smokers want to quit and more than a million of them will try to do just that today - No Smoking Day.
"We hope their voice and their efforts will not go unnoticed by ministers, who also have 'big tobacco' whispering in their ear."
The report also says there should be a cut in the "growing price differential between the most expensive and cheapest cigarettes to discourage down-trading", and calls for more support for new laws to introduce standardised tobacco packaging.
'Increasing taxes deters children'
Anna Gilmore is professor of public health at the University of Bath and researcher at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.
She said: "Tobacco companies constantly complain about tax rises while at the same time quietly increasing prices and amassing huge profits from the sale of a product that kills half their long-term customers.
"This shows there is scope for raising tobacco tax. Increasing taxes not only helps smokers to quit but also deters children from starting a life-long addiction."
A recent BHF poll of more than 2,000 ex-smokers found that more than four in 10 (42 per cent) believe a higher tobacco tax would help other smokers quit.
Over two in five (43 per cent) also urged GPs to bring up the subject more often with smokers during routine appointments, and just over a third (35 per cent) called for more information about local stop-smoking services.