Monday , June 14 2021

How the spirits of tobacco industry with the government are trying to prevent people from smoking

FiTwo-thirds of smokers are thought to want to kick their deadly, and with good reason – it is believed that the same proportion of them dies prematurely because of smoking. Around the world, practice kills more than 6 million people a year.

Yet giving her up is extremely difficult. Smoking tobacco is addictive practice that the Royal College of Doctors in the UK has compared to heroin and cocaine addiction.

But this does not mean that there is nothing we can do. The evidence suggests that the increase in tobacco rates is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use. These taxes, recommended by the World Health Organization and World Bank, increase the price of tobacco products in shops, reducing their affordability – a situation that encourages smokers to give up, and prevent people from starting in the first place.

Taxation is particularly important because lower-income smokers are less likely to respond to many other anti-tobacco campaigns and regulations that are intended to encourage giving. Yet, such smokers, including many young people, are the most sensitive to price increases.

If reliance alone was not enough, an additional challenge for kicking the habit is that tobacco companies do not want smokers to give it up. They do not want to lose their customers and the substantial profits they provide.

So it is surprising that the tobacco industry has well recorded a record of undermining regulations that seek to control the use and sale of tobacco for the benefit of public health. For example, the largest tobacco companies have continued to market cigarettes for children around the world even though they claim not to do so, and often in places where advertising is banned. In the UK, where tobacco advertisements are being banned, Philip Morris International has effectively overcome the ban with the recently launched "smoking stop" campaign, which in fact promotes tobacco products.

Pay a heavy price

Although many of these tactics are obvious, some are more difficult to find. Our latest research reveals another – how the tobacco industry pricing tactics in the UK reduces the intended impact on the impact of tobacco influence on public health.

Tobacco companies offer a range of cheaper products to help keep people smokers (and initially point out to new users) while also offering a series of brands that have a higher price for real money on those who fail or unwilling to give it up.

When tobacco rates are increased, they play with their prices to undermine the effects of the tax increase on smoking. They absorb tax increases, especially on the cheapest brands, defer and stagnate the increase in proposed tobacco prices. In this way, price increases are gradually applied to a portfolio of brands to ensure that smokers will never face prices that will quickly give them up when the government increases taxes.

Further tactics adopted by the industry include shrinkflation – cutting the number of cigarettes in a pack to disguise price rises and prevent the cost of a packet of tobacco being tipped over certain psychological levels.

Reducing the number of cigarettes in a pack from 20 to 19, 18 or even 17, while keeping the price stable means the higher cost per cigarette isn’t immediately obvious to most smokers – and the producer can make greater profits.

The industry also used price marked packaging to limit the ability of retailers to increase their small markup on tobacco sales as a further way of keeping tobacco cheap. Sales of 10-cigarette packs increased and very small packs of loose tobacco (10g or less) were introduced. These small packets appeal to the most price sensitive smokers as they cost less to buy.

Such tactics and small packs have recently been banned in the UK with the introduction of standardised packaging (where tobacco has to be sold in a standardised format with drab packaging) but are still available elsewhere. The UK has also introduced a new minimum excise tax which puts the average price at over £10 for a packet of 20 cigarettes stopping the sale of ultra-cheap mainstream tobacco products.

Ultimately the tobacco industry wouldn’t be manipulating price if it wasn’t so effective in ensuring young people take up smoking and in preventing existing smokers from quitting. So what more can we do?

Stubbing it out

Further restricting industry use of pricing tactics would be a good option. Companies could be limited in the number of brands and brands variants they sell to cut down on the range of prices on offer, and in the number of times they can change prices in order to remove their ability to smooth prices and directly undermine the public health benefits of tax increases.

There is even a case for directly regulating tobacco prices in the same way that prices for public utility services, such as water and electricity are often determined by independent government agencies. Public utilities are important services, which is why the government looks to protect the public from company pricing choices – but then tobacco is a very addictive and deadly product where price matters too.

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Meanwhile, Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced a $20m (£16m) investment to create Stop (Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products) – a global tobacco industry watchdog to help expose more of these practices. The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath is one of three partners funded to lead this initiative.

The public can cannot afford to let the industry operate under the radar when the product they make kills two out of three long term users. This new partnership will serve as a necessary watchdog to expose their deadly tactics.

Anna Gilmore is a professor of public health and director of the Tobacco Control Research Group, J Robert Branston is a senior lecturer in business economics and Rosemary Hiscock is a research associate at the University of Bath. This article first appeared on The Conversation (

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