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Charge tobacco companies for NHS costs, public health groups tell government

The government should impose an annual levy on tobacco companies, to pay for NHS measures to reduce smoking, more than 120 public health organisations, headed by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), have said today.

In the March budget the chancellor, George Osborne, committed the government to further consultation on imposing a levy on tobacco companies. The current strategy, The Tobacco Control Plan for England, is due to finish at the end of 2015.

The money raised from the levy would pay for evidence-based measures to reduce smoking including enhanced mass media campaigns and stop smoking services. Every year smoking costs the NHS at least £2 billion and a further £10.8 billion in wider costs to society, including social care costs of more than £1 billion.

Peter Kellner chair of the report's editorial board and president of 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,” he said.

The report calls for a new comprehensive five-year government tobacco strategy for England in order to reduce the smoking rate to 5% by 2035.