More than 100,000 people would quit smoking in one year alone if the Chancellor increased the tax on cigarettes to five per cent above inflation, according to 80 leading health charities and experts.
In a report released ahead of next week’s Budget, campaigners are calling on George Osborne to increase the tobacco “tax escalator” from two per cent to five per cent above inflation year on year.
The move would net the Government an extra £485m in the first year and £7.4bn over the next five years, it said.
Furthermore, it said the number of smokers would fall by 104,000 in the first year, with a reduction in deaths from smoking of 479.
A 15 per cent rise above inflation for hand-rolled tobacco would lead to even more lives saved, far fewer smokers and further revenue, it added.
The report, from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, is backed by NHS groups of doctors, directors of public health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal College of Physicians.
Charities including the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Cancer Research UK and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation also back the study.
The report calls for a reduction in the “growing price differential between the most expensive and cheapest cigarettes to discourage down-trading”.
And it says there needs to be stronger support for new laws to introduce plain, standardised tobacco packaging, and asks for an update on the Government’s anti-smuggling strategy.
It comes as a poll of more than 2,000 former smokers for the BHF found 42 per cent believed raising the tax on tobacco would help other smokers quit.
Over two in five (43 per cent) said GPs should approach the subject more often with smokers during routine appointments, while 35 per cent called for more information about local stop-smoking services.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said: “Increasing taxes is a win-win for government – it raises much-needed revenue and encourages smokers to quit a deadly addiction.”