Is Policy Exchange the most loathsome think tank in Britain?

Another day, another reason to hate Cameron’s progressive Conservatives. This one comes courtesy of their favourite soft-left think tank Policy Exchange, which has hit on the brilliant idea of punishing smokers even more than they are already by raising the cost of cigarettes still higher.

Just have a skim, if you can bear it, through the witterings of Policy Exchange’s creepy-sounding policy wonk Henry Featherstone on the Conservative Home website:

Smoking remains a controversial issue in our society. And today, our report, Cough up, has re-ignited the debate. First, let’s be clear that smoking remains the biggest single preventable cause of death and serious disease in our society – 83,000 deaths in England last year. But it’s legal, some people enjoy it and tobacco duty raises £10 billion for the Treasury.

So why all the fuss? Well, because for the first time we have exploded the popular myth that smoking is a net contributor to the economy. Our research finds that every single cigarette smoked costs the country money – 6.5 pence each time someone lights up. That’s £2.82 billion in lost revenue each year, when we’re running a budget deficit of £177 billion. So following earlier Policy Exchange research that indicates that tobacco taxes are the most popular way to raise additional revenue, we suggest that tobacco taxation should be increased by 5% in the next Budget. This would see the price of a typical pack of cigarettes rise by 23 pence from £6.13 to £6.36 per packet and generate over £400 million for HM Treasury.

Ah! I hear you say, but won’t increasing taxes just increases smuggling? Not necessarily. Since 2000 there has been a concerted effort to tackle tobacco smuggling into the UK and as a result the market share of smuggled cigarettes has fallen by 50%. This has been achieved through increased co-operation with some tobacco companies, but sadly not all of them. It should also be noted that the type of tobacco that is most frequently smuggled, hand rolled tobacco, is the tobacco which enjoys the lowest level of duty.

Of course the risk of just ratcheting up tobacco tax is that it ends up being regressive, since poorer people are more likely to smoke. So we had identified about £180 million of interventions to reduce smoking prevalence aimed at particularly hard to reach groups like pregnant teenagers. We suggest that direct financial incentives to stop smoking of £10 per week should be offered to pregnant women of, or below, the age of 20. This would cost £36 million annually and would be very cost-effective, with NICE already identifying huge cost benefits for reducing smoking in pregnancy. If we’re going to be serious in our attempts at reducing health inequalities and stopping the cycle of tobacco addiction, then we need to do what works.

Is it just me, or does every one of those words sound like it was written by some noisome Nu Lab apparatchik at a grisly public health Quango?

I love the way he can airily claim that bunging £36 million to smoking mothers – most of whom will presumably carry on puffing away, but just lie to whoever’s doling out the dosh – is “cost-effective.”

I also love the completely random maths of Policy Exchange’s assessment:

Whilst tax on tobacco contributes £10 billion annually to the Treasury coffers, the true costs to society from smoking are far higher, at £13.74 billion, think thank Policy Exchange’s latest report finds. This cost is made up of the cost of treating smokers on the NHS (£2.7 billion) but also the loss in productivity from smoking breaks (£2.9 billion) and increased absenteeism (£2.5 billion); the cost of cleaning up cigarette butts (£342 million); the cost of fires (£507 million), and also the loss in economic output from the deaths of smokers (£4.1 billion) and passive smokers (£713 million).

£2.9 billion lost because of smoking breaks? And how do they KNOW? What about all the productive thoughts that smokers have while nipping outside and talking to the fellow-most-interesting-people-in-the-office? What about the improved productivity-rate induced by having had a good blast of nicotine and fresh air? What about all the time the non-smokers are wasting surfing porn sites and catching up on Facebook?

Of course I loathe Dave Cameron’s other favourite think tank DEMOS. But at least DEMOS admits to being an out-and-out left-wing think tank, while Policy Exchange’s pallid bunch of lettuce-chomping social workers actually have the gall to claim that they’re conservatives. That’s why I hate them more.