Poorest families more likely to smoke

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT policy to increase the real price of cigarettes every year fails to cut smoking among the least well-off, increasing their hardship instead, researchers from the Policy Studies Institute said yesterday.

New data shows that while smoking has halved among the better off since the 1970s, among the poorest there has been no change. Their children are more likely to go without essential items such as shoes and coats. 'Half of the poorest income quarter smoked then, half now; 6 out of 10 lone parents smoked then, 6 out of 10 now,' according to the researchers, Alan Marsh and Stephen McKay.

They say a new approach is needed urgently and call for some of the pounds 500m tobacco tax paid by families on income support to be used to provide a more targeted and effective anti-smoking policy.

The study found the most disadvantaged smoke most. Half of the out-of-work families spent 10 per cent of disposable income on smoking; a quarter spent more than 20 per cent on cigarettes.

Mr Marsh said: 'It is not that these people become poor and then irresponsibly take up smoking to make themselves worse off. About half of people in all income groups take up smoking, but the better off give it up while those in low-income groups find it most difficult, or almost impossible, perhaps because of the stress of poverty but probably because they live in a society where smoking remains normal.'

The study shows that a marginal improvement in quality of life, such as being an owner-occupier, rapidly leads to people being no more likely to smoke than anyone else. 'This evidence suggests that it does not take very much in the way of social and economic improvement to inoculate the majority of men and women against smoking.

'It is when one disadvantage combines with another and then another that low-income families smoke in so much greater numbers. Put most simply, disadvantage doubles smoking.'

Mr Marsh said tobacco tax cannot be cut or prices allowed to fall in real terms because smoking generally would probably rise. Such issues as work incentives and tax levels mean benefits cannot be increased for smokers. However, nicotine patches and gum could be made available on prescription.

About pounds 15m is raised in value-added tax on tobacco smoked by 11 to 15-year-olds, Sir John Cope, Paymaster General, as the Bill to ban tobacco advertising continued its committee stages in the Commons.

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