The Failure of the UK to Tax Adequately Tobacco Company Profits (2020)

Authors: J Robert Branston and Anna B Gilmore


Background: A key driver of the global tobacco epidemic is the massive profit earned from manufacturing tobacco products despite high levels of product taxation. Two of the four major Transnational Tobacco companies are based in the UK, where there is growing evidence of corporate tax avoidance by transnational firms and where there are calls for the industry to pay more towards the harms caused by tobacco products.

Objectives/Methods: UK tobacco company profit and corporation tax data between 2009 and 2016 is obtained from publically available sources. The intention is not to perform a piece of forensic accounting but to establish the broad pattern of profit and taxation in order to inform consideration of tobacco product and firm taxation, and hence public health.

Results: Very little profit based taxation has been paid in the UK despite high levels of reported profits, both in the domestic market and globally.

Conclusions: The UK needs better reporting and corporate taxation standards. Tobacco companies should be made to pay more profit based taxation, such as by extending the surcharge on corporation tax currently paid by UK banks, and by making sure companies pay appropriate taxes when reorganizing corporate structures.

Read more: Journal of Public Health