Top of the table

In an earlier post we also showed how the U.K. was top of the obesity league amongst major EU nations.   Happily, the U.K. is top of a more constructive EU league table, namely the (lack of) affordability of cigarettes.  Cigarettes and smoking are most commonly associated with lung cancer, but they are responsible for a bewildering number of deaths worldwide.  Anything which makes cigarettes less affordable or accessible is therefore a public-health matter and of prime interest to mortality studies.

Guindon et al (2002) calculated the affordability of cigarettes in 1991 and 2000.  The cigarettes were Marlboro (or the nearest equivalent international brand), and the price was divided by the weighted net hourly wage in 12 occupations.  The result is a measure of how long it takes a worker to earn enough to buy cigarettes.  An excerpt of the results is shown in Table 1 for the EU15 countries, sorted in descending order of affordability in 2000. The result confirms what any smoker in the U.K. would tell you, namely that cigarettes are markedly cheaper overseas.

Table 1. Minutes of labour required to buy cigarettes in 1991 and 2000 in EU15.

Minutes of labour required in:

Interestingly, the affordability of cigarettes has actually increased in Austria, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden, i.e. the number of minutes' work required to afford cigarettes dropped between 1991 and 2000.  However, the real puffers' paradise in the EU15 is Luxembourg, where the 2000 affordability is so cheap it is better than any other EU15 country back in 1991.

Before we in the U.K. get too smug about our position in Table 1, consider Guindon et al's comment about the historic affordability of cigarettes here:

"However, in the UK, despite recent increases in price, cigarettes are still more affordable than they were in the 1960s."


So, despite repeated increases in tobacco taxes in the U.K., cigarettes are cheaper relative to income levels than they were a generation ago.  Steadily increasing prosperity means continuous effort is needed to stop cigarettes sliding back into relative affordability.




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Stephen Richards
Stephen Richards is the Managing Director of Longevitas