l

The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Plain packs for tobacco would save £500m in first year, says PHE

Those in deprived areas have most to gain; no dent in retailers’ profits, suggest new calculations

Caroline White

Thursday, 07 August 2014

Standardised packaging for cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco could not only prevent countless smoking related deaths, but also chalk up £500 million in savings in the first year of its introduction, Public Health England has calculated.

The calculations have been submitted as part of PHE’s response to the Government’s consultation on whether to introduce mandatory plain packs for tobacco. The consultation closes today. It builds on PHE’s submission to Sir Cyril Chantler’s review on standardised packaging in January 2014.

In June 2014, the Department of Health published draft regulations for proposed requirements for the packaging of tobacco, to include policies on the colour of the packet, allowed text and typeface, and requirements for the appearance of individual cigarettes.

Recent official data from Australia, where standardised packaging has been in force since December 2012, show a 3.4% fall in tobacco sales by volume in the first year following the introduction of the measure.

If that was mirrored here, PHE predicts that total savings across England would be around £500 million, based on the estimated number of smokers in each local authority and unitary authority and the total spend on tobacco in the UK for 2012-13.

As tobacco is a major cause of health inequalities, the benefits would be most felt in areas of greater social deprivation, says PHE. This is because plain packs would not only reduce the ill health caused by smoking, but also increase families’ disposable income, and enable the money to be spent on other things in local economies.

Retailers have argued that the measure would hit their profits, but PHE says that they make relatively little profit from tobacco sales. On average, only 7-9% of the cost of tobacco is retained by the retailer, compared with 20-30% for food and drink products.

The estimated figures show potential knock-on local economic benefits of: £61.3 million in London; £9.2 million in Birmingham; £4.4 million in Hull; and £3.3 million in Plymouth.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England, said: “Smoking remains the biggest cause of premature mortality in England, accounting for 80,000 deaths every year. Standardised packaging is a powerful measure that would help to save lives.

“The evidence from Australia is adding to the substantial and irrefutable case that the absence of attractive packaging works to reduce the number of smokers, as well as encouraging others to cut down.”

He added: “Only last week we saw smoking levels among young people at an all-time low. The introduction of standardised packaging will be a major boost to our tobacco control efforts – helping move us closer towards achieving a tobacco free generation, which is now in our reach.”

John McClurey, an independent newsagent and member of Gateshead Council, said the PHE figures were “good news for local businesses.”

He continued: “Traders like me are well aware of the tiny profit from tobacco products – I make similar profit from a pack of chewing gum as a £6 pack of cigarettes. What my customers save by quitting or never starting to smoke, they can spend on other goods or services in the area – providing a real boost to the local economy.”

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470