Tobacco Industry Arguments Against Taxation

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The tobacco industry has a history of arguing against tax rises, saying that excessive taxation leads to increased smuggling, amongst other unintended consequences.

“Tobacco Tax Should Be Cut”

For the last decade the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) has consistently argued that higher taxes increase smuggling:

  • In March 2012, the TMA claimed that the Chancellor’s announcement of an above-inflation increase in tobacco taxation “will do nothing to reduce the level of tobacco smuggling and crossborder shopping which cost Her Magesty’s (HM) Treasury up to £3.6 billion in lost tax revenue in 2009/10.”1 Tobacco companies, members of the TMA, voiced the same concerns individually. Imperial Tobacco said that the budget would “tempt more smokers to buy illicit tobacco products”2, while the managing director of Japan Tobacco International UK said that “crime bosses will be tapping on their calculators to work out their new profit margins”3
  • In March 2011, the TMA responded to the Budget by arguing that the “Government has today increased tobacco duties by 2% above inflation which clearly demonstrates a complete lack of joined-up-thinking as taxation is the acknowledged driver of the illicit tobacco trade.”4
  • In February 2011, the trade magazine, Tobacco Reporter5 featured arguments against using tax as a deterrent to smoking. In the editor’s memo, Taco Tunistra argued that the use of tax to generate money and “nudge people towards more wholesome lifestyles” was unworkable “if tobacco is addictive – taxation will not-cannot-reduce consumption”. Nicotine-dependent smokers will simply obtain their ‘fix’ from tax-avoiding sources, he argued.
  • In March 2010, in response to the budget, the TMA predicted that because the Government had “imposed the largest tax increase on tobacco products in ten years” it would “only provide further stimulus to those who seek to profit from the illicit trade in tobacco.”6
  • In April 2009, the TMA responded to the budget by saying that it believed “the high level of tobacco tax” which was the “root cause of the high level of tobacco smuggling, needs to be addressed and a fundamental review of fiscal policy must be undertaken.”7
  • In 2007, the TMA replied to the budget that “we maintain that a fundamental review of the UK’s tobacco tax policy, which is the root cause of the problem, must be undertaken.”8
  • In 2005, the TMA argued that “High tobacco tax, one of the cornerstones of the UK government’s tobacco policy for almost a decade, has resulted in high levels of smuggling and crossborder shopping, with little effect on levels of smoking.”9
  • In 2004, the TMA in its pre-budget meeting argued for tax cuts of £1 on 20 cigarettes and £4 on 50g handrolling tobacco. It argued that “Tobacco tax should be cut to discourage smokers from buying abroad and so that smuggling becomes less profitable for the gangs who mastermind it.”10

Tobacco Industry Concerns “Not Borne Out by the Evidence”

In their budget submission in 2012, anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies rebutted these arguments. In a submission endorsed by over 90 health organisations, they wrote that “The argument that tax increases and enhanced regulation inevitably lead to increases in smuggling are not borne out by UK evidence. In the UK smuggling has been significantly reduced over the last decade by strong enforcement measures. Reintroduction of the tax escalator, increasing taxation above the rate of inflation while sustaining a tough anti-smuggling strategy has been successful. It has not led to increasing levels of illicit tobacco, as predicted by the tobacco industry”.11
A systematic review published in 2012 has also outlined the flaws behind arguments frequently used to oppose increases in tobacco taxation:12

  • Higher tobacco taxes lead to a fall in tax revenue

The tobacco industry, and allied organisations frequently claim that an increase in tobacco taxes will lead to a fall in consumption of tobacco products (or at least a fall in consumption of legal tobacco products) and therefore actually lead to a fall in tobacco tax revenue.13 However a recent review from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) demonstrated that this is not the case, with an increase in tax revenues in the short to medium term, while below-inflation tax increases led to a fall in tax revenue in real terms.14

  • Higher taxes lead to increased smuggling and use of counterfeit tobacco

Despite tobacco companies claiming that tax increases will lead to more smuggling, they continue to increase cigarette prices on most brands by 4-6% ABOVE the tax increase and rate of inflation.15 Furthermore, although higher tobacco taxes create an increased incentive to purchase illicit tobacco, tobacco industry-funded research significantly overstates the prevalence of illicit tobacco products. It is recommended that governments increase efforts to tackle illicit trade rather than postponing tax increases for fear of a rise in illicit tobacco.16 Claims over the ‘tax revenue lost’ to the black market also ignore the increase in revenue generated by tax increases, as discussed above.

  • Lower taxes would reduce smuggling and increase revenue

It is also claimed that a decrease in tax would lead to an increase in revenue, as legal tobacco products would become more competitive against illicit tobacco products.17 However, Sweden increased its tobacco taxes in 1996 and 1997, generating a 9% increase in tobacco tax revenues. The increase was repealed in 1998, and tax revenues returned to their previous level, despite a 50% increase in cigarette sales per person.18 In 1994 Canadian federal and provincial cigarette taxes were reduced significantly in response to an “aggressive industry-sponsored campaign.” Provinces that lowered their tax rates saw a rise in tobacco consumption, as well as a 33% fall in federal tax revenues and a 40% fall in tobacco tax revenue in provinces that lowered their tobacco taxation, while revenue in other provinces was stable. New Hampshire have also experienced a fall in tax revenue after reducing tobacco taxes.1920

  • Higher taxes will cost jobs

The review article also found that there was no evidence that higher tobacco taxes will cause significant job losses, as very few businesses are tobacco-dependent. They also added that the money which had previously been spent by smokers on tobacco would be spent on other products.


  1. TMA, TMA responds to the Chancellor’s Budget – 21 March 2012, 21 March 2012, accessed March 2012
  2. The Guardian, Budget 2012 hits smokers with 37p rise in price of a pack of cigarettes, 21 March 2012, accessed March 2012
  3. The Telegraph, Budget 2012: Tobacco tax ‘boosts smugglers’, 22 March 2012, accessed March 2012
  4. TMA, The Government risks undermining its own Tackling Tobacco Smuggling Strategy, 23 March 2011, accessed March 2012
  5. George Gay, Tax to the max, Tobacco Reporter, February 2011
  6. TMA, Double tobacco tax hike will delight the smugglers, 24 March 2010, accessed March 2012
  7. TMA, Tobacco Tax Hike – Good News For Smugglers, 22 April 2009, accessed March 2012
  8. TMA, Tobacco Industry’s Concern Over Tobacco Duty Increase, 21 March 2007, accessed March 2012
  9. TMA, Tobacco tax policy needs fundamental re-think, 11 March, 2005, accessed March 2012
  10. TMA, Chancellor’s Budget 2004, Briefing, March 2004, accessed March 2012
  11. ASH & UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, 2012 Budget submission to HM Treasury and HMRC, undated, accessed March 2012
  12. Chaloupka, FJ., Yurekli, A., Fong, GT., (2012) Tobacco taxes as a tobacco control strategy, Tobacco Control, vol 21 pp172-180, accessed March 2012
  13. TMA, The Chancellor’s budget, 2000: Tobacco taxes must be reduced in the fight against crime and to restore respect for UK laws and taxes, TMA, 9 February 2000, accessed April 2012
  14. IARC, Effectiveness of tax and price policies for tobacco control. Handbooks of Cancer Prevention in Tobacco Control, Lyon, France, 2011
  15. Gilmore, A., Tavakoly, B., Taylor, G. and Reed, G., 2012. Understanding tobacco industry pricing strategy and whether it undermines tobacco tax policy: the example of the British cigarette market. forthcoming
  16. The World Bank, Curbing the Epidemic: Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control, Washington DC, 1999, accessed July 2011
  17. TMA, ‘Cut and Freeze’ tobacco tax policy could win war on smuggling PR Newswire, accessed April 2012
  18. Joosens, L., Chaloupka, F., Merriman, D., Yurekli, A., Issues in the smuggling of tobacco products, Tobacco Control in Developing Countries, World Bank. Accessed April 2012
  19. Landigran, K., 4 months in, cigarette tax cut no help, November 3 2011, Nashua Telegraph, accessed April 2012
  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30 2012, 61(12) pp201-204, accessed April 2012
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