Minimum price for tobacco could boost health of poorer people, study suggests

Legislation to introduce a minimum price for tobacco could improve the health of people living in poorer areas, research indicates.

Academics want Government intervention to increase the price of the cheapest cigarettes to help cut the rate of smoking-related diseases.

A team of researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and East Anglia investigated how tobacco price varied in convenience stores.

They analysed more than 120,000 purchases in 270 stores across Scotland during one week in April 2018.

Links with deprivation were assessed using figures from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, which show the proportion of people receiving means-tested benefits and other Government support.

The study found cheap tobacco dominates sales in Scotland, particularly in the poorest areas.

A pack of 20 cigarettes was on average 50p cheaper in areas with the lowest average household income, compared with the most affluent neighbourhoods, while rolling tobacco cost 34p less.

The most popular tobacco products in Scotland were the cheapest, known as sub-value, comprising nearly 52% of sales.

In the most deprived neighbourhoods, this rose to 58% while in the most affluent areas it was 39%.

The researchers believe the cost of tobacco may be linked to the likelihood of smoking, as the country’s highest smoking rates are in its poorest places.

The Scottish Government introducing minimum unit pricing for tobacco as it has for alcohol would deter the supply of the cheapest smoking products, they suggest, and potentially boost the health of these areas.

Increasing the price of the cheapest products will affect poorest neighbourhoods most and potentially lead to the greatest health gains by helping people to quit, the researchers believe.

Bringing in a minimum price would require a price cap at the top end of the market to prevent the tobacco industry shifting tax increases from cheap to premium products, they added.

Professor Niamh Shortt, of the Centre for Research on Society, Environment and Health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Cheap tobacco products are clearly very important in maintaining high levels of smoking particularly in the most deprived areas, which in turn entrench health inequalities.

“This study should add to policy discussions around tobacco retail interventions including the potential of a minimum unit price on tobacco products.”

NHS Health Scotland funded the study, which is published in the journal Tobacco Control.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.