Does the government really want you to quit smoking?

The price of whiskey has stayed pretty much the same for the last 10 years in the United Kingdom. Every year the duty on cigarettes goes up by 10-20 pence because of the Government’s policy of taxing smokers out of smoking. The incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, likes to drink whiskey but he doesn’t smoke. You could argue that this is why whiskey is ‘missed’ from the rises (but other spirits are not) whereas cigarette duty is increased every year – but the policy simply isn’t working.

As a former smoker, I recall saying I would give up smoking once they reached £1 per pack. (Yes it was a very long time ago!) I also recall the same mantra at £2, £3, £4 and £4.50 but still I never quit. I finally quit when they reached £5 but it wasn’t because of the price. The reason I chose to quit smoking was because I wanted to be around for my newborn daughter if she needed me as she was growing up. That’s right, I quit smoking for her should she need me, not so I could watch her grow up. I thought it made more sense – after all she needs someone to provide food, clothing, love and affection and guidance for her. I already have all that. But what is significant about me choosing to quit for her and not for me you ask?

It comes back to Gordon’s duty on cigarettes again. I could take the 10-20 pence rises every year. They were niggling but over the course of a year it was only £55 or just over a pound a week. It is more irritating than off-putting to spend £1 extra per week. What’s more, if you are addicted to a drug like nicotine, a quid a week is not an incentive for you to quit getting your fix.

Think of that the other way round and it makes perfect sense. If the Government offered smokers £1 a week to quit smoking, would anybody actually take them up on the offer? No of course not. And that is the key to understanding the motivation of the Government’s tax policy on cigarettes.

We have all heard the “soothing yet authoritative” words of the chancellor saying that he will raise the duty on cigarettes by x many pence in order to continue the policy of dissuading smokers from smoking.

Whilst this is an effective way of preventing children from taking up smoking – cigarettes are unaffordable to the – it is not an effective method of getting adult smokers to quit. Adult smokers have adequate disposable income, children rarely do.

The problem is, most people don’t think. For 2003/4, the British Government took over £8,0930,000,000 in tobacco taxation through duties and tax but only spent £71,000,000 on smoking cessation and public smoking education programs.

On the one hand, they are saying we should stop and expect us to believe that through their funding of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and Group Therapy sessions through the NHS. They are reluctant to use Zyban with NRT as a combined treatment because it is both more effective and more expensive.

The last thing the Government wants its highly taxed smokers to do is quit smoking. They provide over 1% of the Government’s revenues every year (excluding other VAT and income tax receipts that smokers pay anyway) and then have the courtesy to be mostly dead by the age when pension time comes up.

What’s more, the final months of a smoker’s life are no more expensive than other non-smokers. Sure they draw on the health service, but many of them just drop dead as a result of stroke or heart attack. The ones that get cancer are usually diagnosed so late they die within the year. The only relatively expensive smokers are the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseased ones – the ones with emphysema and the like because they need oxygen for the remainder of their years.

Any non-smoker reading this may be crying foul right now. Not so I say. Non-smokers tend to die lingering deaths eating up resources of the NHS as do smokers but non-smokers have generally had a fair few years of pension and then nursing home care so that argument doesn’t wash and what’s more, the smokers paid extra anyway through higher taxes on their cigarettes.

Smokers are the best kinds of citizens for Government because they pay over the odds throughout their lives and then die so quickly they will never get anything back from the system. That is why I believe the Government doesn’t really want you to quit smoking.