Smokers cough up in the Budget

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CITY centre smokers were bulk-buying cigarettes yesterday before Chancellor George Osborne’s 37p hike on a packet of 20 came into force at 6pm last night.

And Sheffield smokers warned the increase won’t cause them to quit - but could force them to buy illegally-imported tobacco instead.

Mr Osborne raised tobacco duty by five per cent above the rate of inflation from 6pm last night.

Yesterday afternoon, before the hike came in, smokers were bulk-buying cigarettes at GT News on High Street in the city centre.

Store supervisor Allison Sanders, aged 45, said: “I’ve worked here nine-and-a-half years and prices of cigarettes have gone up every year. In all that time it hasn’t stopped anyone smoking - they just complain about it.”

Allison, from Woodthorpe, who smokes 20 to 30 cigarettes a day herself, said: “What I think it will do is make people buy more dodgy imported tobacco, which will be worse for them.”

Smoker Aimy Phillips, 27, from Dinnington - a mum-of-five who is pregnant with her sixth child on the way - agreed.

“This won’t stop me smoking,” she said. “Prices are going up for everything - food, petrol, clothes, everything - but I’m addicted to smoking and I won’t stop.”

John Le-Hane, 28, from Woodseats, said: “I’m not happy about the increase at all. I think it’s a rip-off. I don’t think it will be long before people are stealing to provide for their nicotine habit, let alone for drugs.”

Fellow smoker Nicky Green, 28, from Hillsborough, agreed: “People won’t stop smoking because of this. They will just smoke illegal cigarettes.”

A report presented to Sheffield Council in January estimated up to half of smokers already buy illegally-imported cigarettes - and around 64 per cent choose foreign tobacco because they could not afford to smoke otherwise. Cigarettes now exceed £7 for a pack of 20, compared to around £3 for a foreign packet.

Smoking causes 900 deaths in Sheffield each year, and around £27m is spent by the NHS treating people with smoking-related illness.

Health bosses estimate the wider effects of smoking cost the Sheffield economy £137m each year.

Mr Osborne, presenting his Budget to Parliament, said there is clear evidence increasing the cost of tobacco encourages smokers to quit and discourages young people from taking it up.

Dr Jeremy Wight, Sheffield’s Director of Public Health, said: “Any initiative that discourages people from smoking would hopefully go towards combating the 900 preventable deaths in Sheffield each year from smoking related illnesses.

“If anyone is thinking of quitting smoking, there is a lot of help and support available across Sheffield.”