By Laura Bolden

Senior Staff Writer

31 May 2019

| | 5 min read


Tobacco companies should pay - calls for World No Tobacco Day

NEW figures[i] released for World No Tobacco Day (May 31) show more than 7/10 adults in the North East (73%) support calls for a “polluter pays” charge on tobacco companies to reduce smoking among adults and young people.

Former mouth cancer patient Maggie Bratton.
Former mouth cancer patient Maggie Bratton.

And over three-quarters of North East adults (76%) would support tobacco companies being required to reveal the amount they spend on lobbying politicians, front groups and promoting their products.

The latest North East public opinion figures[i] back up calls from health groups for new measures to reduce smoking and create a “smokefree generation”.  They also comes as tobacco companies have been accused of using social media influencers to promote smoking to millions of young followers worldwide using popular influencers on Facebook and Instagram.

Fresh and former North East smoker Maggie Bratton, who developed smoking-related mouth cancer aged just 45, are backing calls from organisations nationally for an annual fixed charge on tobacco multinationals to fund measures to help smokers quit and prevent young people from smoking.

Maggie said: “I started smoking cigarettes when I was about 15.  A lot of people smoked then but the risks of smoking and the sheer number of cancers and diseases which smoking causes were just not as well-known as they are now. I certainly didn’t realise the impact it would have on my life and it makes me angry that the tobacco companies knew so much about the health risks.

 “I look back on all the glossy cigarette adverts aimed at women and the lie that you could reduce the risk if you smoked low tar cigarettes and I wonder how many lives all those things cost.

“It is quite honestly appalling that tobacco companies are once again targeting their cigarettes at a whole new generation of young people. These are huge profitable companies with money to burn on advertising and promotion - to me it is only fair that they pay towards the damage they cause.”

 In addition the survey by YouGov[ii] shows:

  • 61% of North East adults support raising the age of sale for tobacco from 18 to 21 with only 13% opposing.
  • 81% of North East adults say they do not believe tobacco companies when they say they want to help people quit smoking.
  • 80% of NE adults think businesses should require a licence to sell tobacco which can be removed if they are caught selling to children more than once.

 Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: “Smoking is our biggest killer with thousands of children continuing to get addicted every year and killing 1 in 2 long term smokers early. Leopards don’t easily change their spots and it is clear that people in the North East believe big tobacco should pay for the deaths, disease and poverty caused by addiction to smoking.

 “No other product when used exactly as the manufacturers intend will cause 16 types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, COPD and many other conditions. My own father died at the age of 61 from COPD and every day I think about all he has sadly missed out on. This is why we need bold new measures to tackle the harm caused by smoking.”

Councillor Kim McGuinness, cabinet member for culture, sport and public health at Newcastle City Council said:

“I support these ambitious plans as we work to eliminate smoking in the North East and create a smoke-free generation.

“Smoking has a truly negative impact on an individual’s health, their finances, it can affect their friends, family and people around them. It also has a huge resource impact on our local NHS and social care services.

“Tobacco companies are some of the most profitable in the world and more should be done to restrict their ability to target young people. Using their own insight and knowledge to counter their tactics would give us an edge in the fight against them.

“We have already taken steps across the North East to reduce the number of smokers, however our aim is to eliminate smoking and so there is more to do.”

Prof Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health for Newcastle City Council and lead North East DPH for Tobacco, called for a levy on tobacco companies and said: “You would be hard pressed to find any family in the North East that hasn’t been affected by smoking. Around 5,500 people die in our region from smoking each year which is around 55,000 people over the last decade - more than the capacity of St James Park.

“We have paid heavily for the millions spent on marketing and advertising of cigarettes over several decades.  Making tobacco companies in the UK pay towards the costs of reducing smoking rates is wholly justified.

“Smoking costs the North East at least £613 million a year but who can put a price on the years of health and happiness lost to smokers and their families? At the same time the four largest tobacco companies in the UK will make around £1.5 billion in profit[iii].”

He added: “The North East has made significant progress in reducing smoking over the last decade but if we are to achieve our ambition of a smokefree generation we need further measures. “

 Did you know? The tobacco industry

  • Tobacco industry products kill around 115,000 smokers each year in the UK - 1 in 2 smokers will die early from smoking [iv]
  • Although youth smoking rates are at a record low, more than 127,000 children a year aged 11-15 started to smoke in the UK between 2014 and 2016. [v]
  • The four largest tobacco multinationals are some of the most profitable businesses in the world, making over £1.5 billion in profits a year in the UK alone in recent years.[vi]
  • Millions of internal tobacco industry documents were made public following legislation in the USA which highlighted the tactics of tobacco companies, including marketing to young people and women and the fact that the health risks of smoking .[vii]
  • In the USA tobacco companies were ordered in 2018 by the courts to take out adverts or “corrective statements” to tell the public the truth about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • two year investigation published in 2018 accused tobacco companies of secretly advertising cigarettes on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter by paying social media influencers – popular young people with large online followings – to post images of cigarettes and smoking as part of a marketing strategy documented in more than 40 countries.[ix]
  • Recent publicity has highlighted how many former tobacco workers in the UK have become ill from smoking due to the former practice of tobacco companies providing employees with free cigarettes.[x]

 Calls for new measures to tackle smoking

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health has called for a package of measures backed by cross-party support on the APPG in its new report “Delivering the vision of a Smokefree Generation”. These include:

  • Making the polluter pay: a charge on the tobacco multinationals designed to deliver a fixed sum annually to the Government to fund high impact, evidence-based measures to encourage smokers to quit, and discourage youth uptake.
  • Reducing the affordability of tobacco: by increasing the annual tobacco tax escalator with an added uplift for hand-rolled tobacco (currently much more lightly taxed) to prevent down-trading detrimental to public revenues and public health.
  • Raising the age of sale of tobacco from 18 to 21: to discourage uptake by those most at risk and reinforce the message that smoking is uniquely dangerous. Addiction from smoking tobacco can take hold within just a few weeks.
  • Retail licensing: to support enforcement activity against underage sales and illicit tobacco, which would ban the sale of tobacco from unlicensed retailers and "tab houses" (selling from private homes).
  • Collection and publication of tobacco manufacturers' sales and marketing data: to monitor the evolving behaviour of the industry and inform better regulation.
  • Increased funding for education campaigns: using the charge on the industry to fund targeted campaigns to increase attempts to quit, and discourage uptake
  • Inserts in all tobacco packs with messaging encouraging smokers to quit.
  • Enhanced guidelines on smoking on screen (film and TV): to reduce the exposure of young people to images of smoking which have been proven to increase uptake of smoking


[i] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 12,393 adults, of which 516 were in the North East. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th February and 10th March 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).


[ii] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 12,393 adults, of which 516 were in the North East. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th February and 10th March 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+