Monday 13 October 2014

Another tobacco control canard bites the dust

Back in 2012, the BBC reported that...

... campaign groups such as the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (UKCTCS) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) say that despite years of rising tobacco duty, increases in disposable incomes mean that tobacco remains relatively more affordable than it was in the 1960s.

...Prof John Britton, director of the UKCTCS, said hitting smokers in the pocket was the best way to get them to stop.

"Price is the most effective way to encourage smokers who are thinking of quitting to make that step," he said.

"UK cigarettes are more affordable now than they were when the health risks of smoking first became known."

I have always suspected this to be a lie because (a) tobacco duty is enormous today compared to fifty years ago, and (b) most claims made by ASH turn out to be lies.

However, the data you need to test the affordability claim are surprisingly hard to find on the Office for National Statistics' website. So I was pleased to see some historic prices rear their head in the Telegraph today. And guess what...

The cost of cinema tickets, stamps and cigarettes have all grown more quickly than house prices over the past forty years, a study of inflation since the Seventies has found.
... A first-class stamp was just 3p in 1974, compared with 62p today – giving inflation of 2,067 per cent. Cigarette prices had leapt 4,370 per cent – or fortyfold – the highest rate of inflation in the comparison. The price of a pack of 20 had moved from 20p to £8.74.

... The average weekly wage had risen more slowly than all five of these high-inflation goods, up 1,616 per cent. The study indicated that £32 was normal forty years ago, while £517 was the average today.

In other words, cigarette prices have risen three times faster than the average salary. In 1974, the average weekly wage would buy you 160 packs. Today, it only buys you 59 packs.

Okay, 1974 is not quite the 1960s, but it's close enough for us to be able to file another anti-smoking factoid under F for Fib.


Turnbull2000 said...

I'm not sure you're right on this one. The original article refers to disposable income, not total income. Disposable income now is much higher than back then, thus the cost of cigs as a proportion of disposable income may possibly be lower.

Christopher Snowdon said...

The median average disposable income has slightly more than doubled since 1974 (in real terms). Cigarette prices have gone up by a lot more than that.

Bear in mind that disposable income only refers to income after direct taxation, so it hasn't diverged from pre-tax wages a great deal.