Smoking rises for first time since 1972

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S BIGGEST cigarette manufacturer yesterday claimed that adult smoking was on the increase for the first time in a generation, fuelled by a flood of cheap, bootlegged imports.

Gallaher, which produces the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, said the proportion of British adults who smoke cigarettes rose from 22.3 per cent to 23.2 per cent last year. The rise equates to half a million more adult smokers.

The company says the high levels of duty imposed on tobacco in the UK meant a typical packet of 20 cigarettes costs pounds 3.60 compared with pounds 2.60 on the black market. The Government is committed to above-inflation rises in tobacco duty each year to help curb smoking. Gallaher said it had given its findings to the Government ahead of next week's Budget: "Our message to the Government, is that if you are doing this to reduce smoking, it's not working."

Gallaher denied that cutting duty levels would also lead to a rise in smoking. "It is better to have control of the market... so we can stop the selling of cigarettes to children," a spokesman claimed.

But pressure groups blamed the rise in smoking on promotion by the tobacco companies. A spokeswoman for the anti-smoking pressure group Ash said: "The companies have been targeting students by concentrating their marketing around nightclubs and handing out free cigarettes at promotional events. We know there has been a rise in smoking among teenagers and those in their early twenties but it is not bootlegging that is responsible."

If the rise claimed by Gallaher is confirmed it will be the reversal of a downward trend. Smoking has been declining steadily at about 1 per cent a year since 1972 when half the population were regular smokers. Latest figures for 1997 show 28 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men smoke.

A survey by Mintel last year gave the first sign that the 25-year fall in smoking had stopped. It suggested the overall number of smokers had risen slightly. New official figures will not be published until later this year. There was a blip in the figures in 1996, the most recently published data. According to the government's General Household Survey that year the proportion of adults smoking rose from 28 per cent to 29 per cent between 1994-96.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is likely to increase taxes on cigarettes in his Budget next week despite Treasury concern about an alarming rise in tobacco smuggling, ministers hinted yesterday. During question time in the Commons, Tessa Jowell, the Public Health minister, gave a clear signal that taxes would be increased.

Mr Brown is expected to announce an investigation into the operation of Customs and Excise after officials said he was losing more than pounds 1bn in duty a year through organised smuggling.