Tobacco companies will be slapped with an extra annual levy of up to £700m under radical “polluter-pays” proposals put forward by the Government’s anti-smoking tsar.
Javed Khan, the former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said some of the world’s biggest companies must pay for anti-smoking reforms instead of the NHS.
Mr Khan has been asked by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to conduct an independent review on how England will meet its target of reducing smoking prevalence to below 5pc by 2030. Scotland is aiming to meet the target by 2034. He will report his findings in mid-May.
Mr Khan is examining whether to advise ministers to increase the minimum age for smoking to 21, 25, or go for a more radical “New Zealand” approach that outlaws smoking for anyone born after 2008. E-cigarettes may also become available on NHS prescription.
Taxing the profits of British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Philip Morris International, the company behind Marlboro, is not “that radical”, he insisted.
“The public is often led to believe that smoking is a personal choice. When really smoking is an addiction, which is promoted by an industry that has very little concern for life or for health,” added Mr Khan.
“The recommendations that I’m going to be making which are still being developed and finalised — there is going to be a cost attached. I’m going to be saying to the Government that they need to invest money to deliver a comprehensive response to get us to a smoke-free 2030.
“The big question I’m also asking is, should taxpayers actually have to pay the consequences? Why not make the polluter pay? Why not introduce a polluter levy on increasing corporation tax to the tobacco industry?”
Conservative MP Bob Blackman, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, said: “A potential levy on the profits of the big tobacco companies could raise £700m-a-year, which could then be put towards smoking cessation services — and reduce the cost to the National Health Service from people that smoke.”
The Health Secretary sees smoking as “a big levelling up issue”, according to Government sources. Smoking prevalence is approaching 30pc in lower income areas such as the North of England and Midlands compared with the national average of 13pc.
Mr Khan said: “A lot of people think smoking now is not an issue. But across the UK, there are still seven million smokers. And statistically, two-thirds of them are likely to die because of it.”
E-cigarettes are likely to be a central plank of Mr Khan’s proposals, despite some uncertainty over their long-term effects.
He said: “I’m seriously looking at the possible promotion of vaping as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Because the bulk of evidence around the world is pretty clear that vaping is significantly less harmful. There are some people who disagree with that, but the vast majority don’t.
“So there seems to be a strong case for the promotion of vaping, even potentially medicinally licensed vaping. So vaping on prescription, why not?”
He continued: “My job is to set out the rationale for it and give [the Government] some options to choose from. The polluter-pays levy is one of those.”