Health campaigners call on Chancellor to improve the economy by tackling tobacco and alcohol harm
Health campaigners from the North East are today urging the Chancellor to take decisive action on tobacco and alcohol in order to improve the finances and health of people living in the region.
Fresh and Balance, the tobacco and alcohol programmes funded by local authorities across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham, have written to the Chancellor to outline the measures needed to boost wealth across the North East.
Reducing alcohol and tobacco use – and the harms caused by both products – will increase productivity, improve the health of the workforce, reduce preventable ill-health and encourage more money to be spent in local economies rather than on products that kill and cause disease.
Each year in North East, 112,000 households are driven into poverty as a result of costs relating to smoking. £684 million is wasted every year in lost earnings and employment prospects due to sickness absence, smoking breaks, early retirement through smoking related ill-health and premature deaths from smoking. Smoking related healthcare costs the NHS £124.9 million each year and local councils are spending around £70 million every year delivering social care to 86,000 people for everyday tasks such as dressing, walking and using the toilet due to smoking.
Alcohol use robs families, society and businesses of people at prime working age with 54 being the average age for an alcohol death. Similarly, poor health costs the economy and undermines the productivity of the working age population. Estimates suggest up to 17 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of alcohol-related sickness, with the cost to employers of sick days due to alcohol placed at around £1.7 billion each year, with a total cost to the economy of around £7.3bn each year. On top of this, costs relating to presenteeism – people whose work is affected by alcohol use – is estimated to be between £1.2 billion and £1.4 billion a year.
Raising taxes on unhealthy products like tobacco and alcohol is one of the most effective and cost effective measure to reduce consumption and improve health – and with a healthier workforce comes increased wages, higher standards of living and fewer people living in poverty, as well as reduced strain on local authority social care and the NHS. Figures show that there is majority public support for raising taxes for tobacco and alcohol.
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance said:
“Smoking is killing our loved ones and it is robbing many more people of years of active, working life. But not only that, it is devastating our economy at the same time, plunging households into poverty, wrecking employment prospects and keeping wages low. All of this is entirely preventable and the Government have a real chance in March at the Spring Budget to change some of this. We want to see effective tax increases that raise the price of tobacco overall but particularly the cheapest – but just as deadly – products like hand-rolling tobacco. Tobacco manufacturers should also be made to pay a proportion of their vast profits towards the cost of dealing with the devastation caused by smoking.”
Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy at Fresh and Balance said:
“For too long, the Government has been sleepwalking into a public health crisis with alcohol. Deaths from alcohol are at an all-time high, liver disease is soaring and we have the worst rates of alcohol related hospital admissions in the country. Regions like the North East – which already faces economic hardship – are the hardest hit when it comes to alcohol harms.
“For many years, the Government has chosen to freeze or cut alcohol duty, which has depleted the public purse and resulted in less investment in vital frontline services. Now the Government has committed to reforming the duty system, we need to see bold action that saves lives, reduces harm and eases pressure on the NHS, wider public services and private businesses. We also need an evidence-based national alcohol strategy to reverse the harms that have spiralled in recent years.”
- Publish without delay a comprehensive, evidence-based national tobacco control plan for England which is fully funded at least in line with the recommendation outlined in the Javed Khan OBE independent review into making smoking obsolete i.e. £125 million a year for tobacco control
- Continue to strengthen tobacco tax policy by increasing taxation on cigarettes and applying a higher rate of increase on hand-rolling tobacco to bring it in line with cigarettes.
- Consult on a statutory ‘polluter pays’ scheme to require tobacco manufacturers to fund measures to reduce smoking prevalence and improve public health.
- For the Government to increase alcohol duty by 2% above inflation at the Spring 2023 Budget in order raise revenue, save lives, decrease alcohol health harm and ease the pressure that alcohol puts on public services.
- For the Government to press ahead with proposed reforms of alcohol duty in the 2023 Finance Bill as planned and to introduce an automatic uprating mechanism.
- For the Government to commission an independent review of alcohol harms and subsequently develop an evidence based national strategy to respond to these harms, including the implementation of a healthier and fairer alcohol duty system.