Cancer Research UK has kicked off a new campaign calling on the government to make the tobacco industry pay out for the health damage caused by its products and help reduce the number associated deaths.

The ‘Cough up’ campaign argues that a new levy of just 1p per cigarette sold in the UK would raise an extra £500 million, which could be streamed directly into public health services and mass media quit campaigns that would save thousands of lives.

Earlier this month a CR UK report revealed that cuts to public health funding mean local Stop Smoking Services are being closed down across the country. This funding shortfall could be addressed with financial support from the tobacco industry, the charity says, given that it makes a profit of £30 billion, that’s more than £4,000 for every death caused by tobacco.

In England alone, tobacco use costs around £13.8 billion each year, including direct costs to the NHS as well as lost work days and productivity due to smoking-related illness.

“For too long the tobacco industry has had an easy ride, making money without having to spend a single pound on the damage its products cause,” said Alison Cox, CR UK’s director of cancer prevention. “It continues to profit from selling a highly addictive and lethal product that causes illness and death”. 

“Tobacco companies make billions of pounds every year, so we’d like to see them using their profits to keep Stop Smoking Services open and fund advertising campaigns to help people quit. At a time when health budgets are stretched, this is a simple solution to a lethal problem”. 

But Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, told Sky News that the UK tobacco industry already contributes £12.5 billion each year to the Treasury, which he argues is “far in excess of the alleged costs to the NHS”.