Budget 2016: Anti-smoking restrictions lobby group Forest calls on chancellor George Osborne to avoid hiking tobacco duty in next month's Budget

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Lobby group forest wants George Osborne to stop hiking the duty on tobacco products (Source: Getty)

Campaigners have warned George Osborne not to hike tobacco taxes in next month’s Budget, as they step up their fight to end automatic yearly increases to the levy on cigarettes.

Forest, a lobby group which campaigns against measures to restrict smoking in the UK, has urged the chancellor to abandon the “escalator” system, which increases the tobacco duty – a surcharge on cigarettes and other tobacco products – faster than prices every year. If Osborne sticks to his plans, the price of a pack of cigarettes would jump by around three per cent in March.

Pointing to years of successive above-inflation increases, Forest director Simon Clark, has called on the government to “stop fleecing the consumer and give law-abiding smokers a break”.

“Tobacco is a legal product and smokers have a right to expect a level of taxation that is fair and reasonable and doesn’t increase poverty or inequality,” Clark said, noting that tax makes up 88 per cent of the price of the cheapest cigarettes in the UK.

The tobacco duty raised more than £9bn for the government’s coffers in the last financial year, but campaigners argue that high taxes on cigarettes hurt poorer smokers more.

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