The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that demand for illicit tobacco could rise, driven by the rising cost of living.
With inflation hitting 9% over the past year, concerns have been raised that increased prices could force consumers towards illicit tobacco in an effort to save money.
The LGA, which represents 350 councils across England and Wales, warned that consumers could be exploited by rogue traders peddling cheap counterfeit tobacco as well as the lost duty that would be raised by these products.
It reported that with the UK’s estimated 5.5 million smokers paying an average of around £14 for a packet of 20 cigarettes, the sale of cheap, illegal tobacco by rogue traders in shops, private homes and through social media has resulted in a loss of £2.3bn in taxable income in 2019/20.
This comes ahead of the publication of the independent review of Smokefree 2030 policies by former Barnardos chief executive Javed Khan. As part of this review, the LGA believes more investment is needed in smoking cessation services and local trading standards provision to reduce widening health disparities, organised crime, and lost revenue in public services.
The LGA said the forthcoming review must recognise the role of enforcement as part of a comprehensive strategy to create smoke free England by 2030 and crackdown on illegal sales to minors and of illicit tobacco.
It also suggested a ‘polluter pays’ levy on the tobacco industry that it believes could raise around £700m a year from tobacco manufacturers to pay for stop smoking services, mass media campaigns like Stoptober, and work to stop the sale of illegal tobacco, at no cost to the public purse.
Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer Stronger Communities Board, Cllr Nesil Caliskan said: “Quitting smoking is the single most impactful thing a person can do to improve their health, and while considerable progress has been made in reducing the number of smokers, there is an increasing risk that the sale of illicit tobacco will undo the progress already made.
“Councils are a key player in supporting the Government’s ambition of eliminating smoking in England by 2030, through their tobacco control and other public health and support services, however it is vital this review provides certainty over long-term funding.”