10/06/2015 00:01 BST | Updated 09/06/2016 06:12 BST

Firms 'Should Pay Smoking Levy'

Tobacco companies should be made to pay an annual levy to the Government to offset the costs of reducing smoking rates, campaigners have said.

The report by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) also calls for targets to be set for cutting down on the number of people addicted to cigarettes, with the ambitious aim of achieving a 5% smoking rate by 2035. Latest figures show it is currently around 19%.

The campaign group's five-year Government tobacco strategy for England also calls for mass media campaigns including anti-smoking films to be shown before movies and TV shows that portray smoking and can be seen by children and young people.

It said ministers must also address the "startling and widening" health inequalities that see smoking more concentrated than ever among the least advantaged in society.

It added that the health gains that have been made in the last few decades have not been even, with more than 1.2 million children and three million adults in England who live below the poverty line in households that smoke.

Ash said the £1 billion-plus profit made by tobacco companies in the UK would pay for the measures needed to reduce rates and since the publication of the first comprehensive Government strategy on tobacco in 1998, 70,000 lives have been saved as a result of falling smoking rates.

The group said the report, Smoking Still Kills, has been endorsed by more than 120 health organisations.

Chairman of the report's editorial board, Peter Kellner, said: "The NHS is facing an acute funding shortage and any serious strategy to address this must tackle the causes of preventable ill health.

"The tobacco companies, which last year made over a £1 billion in profit, are responsible for the premature deaths of 80,000 people in England each year, and should be forced to pay for the harm they cause.

"Investing in evidence-based measures that reduce smoking is highly cost effective; for example stop smoking services have been shown to be one of the most cost effective ways to improve people's health. Placing a levy on tobacco companies to fund such work is a win-win – saving both money and lives."

Professor Sheila Hollins, the British Medical Association's (BMA) board of science chairwoman, said: "The BMA has previously called for a tobacco-free society by 2035, and is pleased that this report sets out a range of progressive and comprehensive measures to help achieve that goal.

"Although smoking is becoming less widespread, one in five adults still smoke, which costs the NHS an estimated £2.7 billion each year, and the wider UK economy around £2.5 billion in sick leave and productivity.

"As doctors we see first-hand the devastating effects of tobacco addiction, and have a duty to protect our children from an addiction that takes hold of most smokers when they are young.

"We support this report's recommendations, and agree that to meet this duty, we must sustain and renew our collective effort to tackle smoking and drive down smoking prevalence at an even faster rate."

British Heart Foundation chief executive Simon Gillespie said: "We need a comprehensive new strategy, sustained investment in tobacco control and strong political will to show we are serious about reducing the devastating damage that smoking causes.

"By cutting smoking rates further, we can reduce the rate of heart attacks almost immediately, and deliver longer term benefits by reducing cardiovascular conditions that cause so much suffering and cost the country dearly."

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: "Smoking rates are at the lowest ever level but it still remains the biggest preventable killer in England.

"We have taken bold steps to help protect the public - covering up tobacco displays, introducing standardised packaging and making it illegal to smoke in a car with children present.

"We will read this report with interest as we develop our new tobacco strategy."