Tobacco products duty: rates

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 16 Ionawr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 17—Review of changes to rates of duty on tobacco products—

“(1) Within twelve months of the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effects of the changes made by section 45 to rates of excise duty on tobacco products and the Minimum Excise Tax on cigarettes.

(2) The review under this section must consider—

(a) the effect of the changes on smoking cessation, and

(b) the effect on revenue of the changes in each financial year until 2027-28.

(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons the report of the review under this section as soon as practicable after its completion.”

This new clause provides for a review of the effect of changes to duty on tobacco products on smoking cessation and on revenue for each financial year until 2027-28.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 45 implements changes announced at the autumn Budget 2017 concerning tobacco duty rates. The duty charged on all tobacco products will rise in line with the tobacco duty escalator, with an additional 1% rise for hand-rolled tobacco. Smoking rates in the UK are falling, but they are still too high. Just under 16% of adults are now smokers. We have ambitious plans to reduce that still further, as set out by the Department of Health and Social Care in its tobacco control plan, which includes a commitment to continue the policy of maintaining high duty rates for tobacco products in order to improve public health.

The UK now has comprehensive tobacco control legislation that is the envy of the world, but smoking is still the single largest cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK—it accounts for around 100,000 deaths per year and kills about half of all long-term users. According to Action on Smoking and Health, smoking costs society almost £14 billion a year in England, including £2 billion in costs to the NHS for treating diseases caused by smoking.

In the autumn Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Government are committed to maintaining the tobacco duty escalator until the end of this Parliament. The clause therefore specifies that the duty charged on all tobacco products will rise by 2% above RPI—retail prices index—inflation. In addition, duty on hand-rolled tobacco will rise by an additional 1% this year.

The clause also specifies that the minimum excise tax—the minimum amount of duty to be paid on a pack of cigarettes—will rise in line with wider cigarette duty. Those new tobacco duty rates will be treated as taking effect from 6 pm on the day that they were announced, 22 November 2017.

New clause 17 seeks to place a statutory requirement on my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to review the effects of changes to tobacco duty. The Opposition have raised important issues. The Government are committed to reducing smoking prevalence and co-ordinating efforts through the tobacco control delivery plan, which is a cross-Department project, led by the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, that seeks to prevent individuals smoking, support current smokers to quit and enforce tobacco regulations.

Tax policy is one part of that plan, alongside various other measures, including effective regulation and public awareness campaigns. The plan is the framework for robust and ongoing policy evaluation. Furthermore, the Chancellor assesses the impact of all potential changes in his Budget considerations every year. The tax information and impact note published alongside the Budget announcement sets out the Government’s assessment of the expected impacts. Detail on the revenue impact is set out in the policy costings document, also published alongside the Budget. Both include the expected revenue impact to 2022-23.

The Office for Budget Responsibility expects tobacco clearances to fall, as the long-term trend in the decline in smoking within the population continues. We therefore expect tobacco duty receipts to fall in the longer term. Accordingly, we will review our duty rates at each fiscal event to ensure that it continues to meet our two objectives of protecting public health and raising revenue for our vital public services. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:15, 16 Ionawr 2018

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I understand broadly that we are essentially talking about three changes across the board: the duty rate increase of 2% across all tobacco products, the extra 1% for hand-rolled tobacco, and the minimum excise tax to ensure that there is a minimum tariff for the very cheapest cigarettes.

We are asking for a review and will continue to do so, because it is so necessary. I think that some of the changes are quite positive. The new measures around hand-rolled tobacco are important, given that that form of cigarette has become increasingly popular—more than a third of smokers now use hand-rolled tobacco. Men, rather than women, and people in more deprived socioeconomic groups are particularly likely to smoke hand-rolled cigarettes. We think it is important for action to be taken in that regard.

The MET is also important to ensure that cigarette taxes on their own do not lead to compensatory behaviour, such as switching to a lower price brands. Evidence from countries such as Thailand suggests that when taxes went up, people just compensated by smoking cheaper cigarettes rather than stopping. We are asking for a review because we are concerned about the sufficiency or otherwise of the duty rises reported here for the Government’s overall anti-smoking efforts.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

On that point about cheaper brands, does the hon. Lady agree that there is also a huge risk that people will turn to illicit tobacco, which is also a tax avoidance matter with people bringing cigarettes into the country?

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that germane point. I understand that more research is needed into the extent to which people substitute illicit brands. Of course, that is the nature of the beast, because these products are illicit and therefore difficult to discover. Many of those involved in the trade are involved in other forms of criminality. It is enormously important to deal with that and with the health problems associated with illegal products, which can include lots of chemicals in addition to the tar and other noxious substances present in all cigarettes. I absolutely agree with her.

There is evidence that cigarette taxes are leading to a reduction in smoking, and that the reduction is greater when there are measures in place to prevent the proliferation of very low-cost cigarettes. But there is also evidence that the effectiveness of both is greatly enhanced when coupled with health interventions, not just public awareness campaigns. For example, nicotine replacement therapies have been shown to increase the long-term success of quitting by about 3% to 7%, and if a quit attempt is made by a former smoker with the support of a health professional as part of a structured support programme, they are far more likely to keep that quit in place and not to start smoking again.

Similarly, behavioural support has been shown to increase the likelihood of a smoker quitting long term by a similar figure: between 3% and 7%. I mention that now because current developments are extremely worrying in this regard. A recent report by Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health shows that cuts to the public health budget nationally have led to dramatic changes in services for smokers. Only 61% of local authorities now offer what the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests for evidence-based intervention to help people stop smoking. I am shocked by that, as I am sure are other members of the Committee. There have been huge cuts to local anti-smoking services, and I understand that at least one local authority now has no budget at all for addressing smoking. In one in nine local authority areas GPs no longer prescribe nicotine patches or similar measures.

Why am I mentioning that now? Let us face an obvious point: tobacco taxes are regressive, because they affect those on lower incomes most. We cannot escape that. If help is available for people to quit, then that regressive impact is in some way compensated for. The evidence is that only about half of the people who smoke actually enjoy it, so huge numbers want to quit. The average smoker in the UK spends £23 a week on cigarettes, and obviously that figure is increasing as a result of these additional duties.

There has been a debate within the international evidence, and this may come up within the Minister’s responsibility when he returns to the issue. Most of the international examination that says that there might not be a regressive impact has suggested that in the long run, low-income smokers will save on their medical costs. But that does not apply in the UK, thank goodness, because we have a national health service that is free at the point of use so everybody is able to use it and there is no such medical saving in that regard.

If those professional services for stopping smoking are not available, particularly to people on low incomes, it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is a regressive tax being imposed without the help that people need to stop smoking. Only about one in twenty people who try to stop unaided manage to stop smoking for six months. People who do stop smoking for some time do have a number of symptoms, as those trying to do it will know. These symptoms are severe, and in many cases they lead to people going back to smoking even if they do not want to do that. It is therefore particularly important that we have help for young people. Labour—

Order. The health implications are important, but we need to get back to the issue.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Labour said that we would prioritise having a special programme focused on young smokers. The point I am trying to make is that the Minister said this was part of a suite of measures, but he only mentioned public health information campaigns in addition, from what I can remember—I will check Hansard to see whether that is correct. The evidence strongly suggests that if we just increase duty, as we are doing now, without that suite of extra measures, we are not going to see the number of people stopping smoking that we really need. We have also seen cuts in trading services, which potentially is enabling more young people to access cigarettes than should be the case. For all those reasons, we urge the Government to review the effectiveness of this measure on overall smoking cessation rates, and we will continue to push for that review.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

The hon. Lady raised the issue of the potential substitution effect in individuals trying to avoid the priced-in tax on cigarettes by purchasing illegal cigarettes, which might increase the amount of illegal trade. I can tell her that tacking illicit tobacco is a key priority for the Government. Since 2000 the UK has adopted a strategic approach, with a wide range of policy and operational responses, in collaboration with other enforcement agencies in the UK and overseas. That effort has achieved a long-term reducing trend in the illicit tobacco market, despite duty rates increasing substantially over the same period. The percentage tax gap for cigarettes was reduced from 22% to 15% and for hand-rolling tobacco from 61% to 28%, so there appears to be some evidence that the substitution effect, or the increase in illicit tobacco coming into the country, is not quite as sensitive to some of the tax rises as one might instinctively imagine.

The hon. Lady asked what other measures the Government are engaged in to try to reduce smoking. As I have said, we are committed to reducing the prevalence of smoking through our tobacco control delivery plan 2017 to 2022, which also provides the framework for robust and ongoing policy evaluation. The plan sets out ambitious objectives to reduce smoking prevalence, including reducing the number of 15-year-olds who regularly smoke from 8% to 3% or less, reducing smoking among adults in England from 15.5% to 12% or less, reducing the inequality gap in smoking prevalence between those in routine and manual occupations and the general population—that touches on her point about the potentially regressive nature of tobacco tax—and reducing the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.5% to 6% or less.

We will of course continue to keep those measures under constant review. In fact, tobacco and smoking is one of the areas of public policy on which Governments of all colours have placed particular emphasis. There is a huge amount of scrutiny in that area and we will continue in that vein.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46