Roll-Your-Own (or hand-rolling) tobacco should be taxed at almost triple its current rate to protect public health, according to a new international study from researchers at the University of Bath and King’s College London.

This would push the price of the most popular brand in the UK from around £13 for the smallest 30g pouch, to about £25.

The study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, looked at the size of cigarettes rolled by smokers in the UK compared with Australia, the US, and Canada. They found that when governments put small, incremental tax rises on the cost of tobacco and when Roll-Your-Own tobacco is taxed at a lower rate than factory made cigarettes, smokers shift from factory made to Roll-Your-Own and roll thinner cigarettes to keep their addiction affordable rather than quitting.

Yet more than 60% of UK smokers say they want to quit and crucially, the harm to health persists with each cigarette, with no significant decrease in risk when smokers roll smaller cigarettes. To encourage smokers to quit, the researchers therefore recommend increasing taxes on Roll-Your-Own tobacco in line with those on factory made cigarettes.

The UK and Australia have adopted high tobacco taxation as a means of deterring people from smoking, as recommended by the World Health Organization. Yet both have significantly lower taxes on Roll-Your-Own tobacco compared with factory made cigarettes. The study finds that this results in smokers sidestepping the financial pressure to quit. Analysing data from the International Tobacco Control Survey from 2006 to 2015 for 1,924 individuals across four countries, the researchers found a two per cent yearly reduction in the weight of tobacco in Roll-Your-Own Cigarettes, in both the UK and Australia.

The researchers also looked at USA and Canadian markets with lower tobacco taxes, where factory made and Roll-Your-Own cigarettes are more equally taxed. In these markets Roll-Your-Own tobacco smokers typically use more tobacco in each cigarette. However, RYO smoking rates are much lower, and in fact too low for the researchers to look changes in the weight of tobacco over time.

In the UK each factory made cigarette currently faces £0.28 in tobacco tax, but a typical Roll-Your-Own cigarette currently only incurs £0.10 in tax. Similarly, in Australia each factory made cigarette faces AUS$0.70 in federal tobacco taxes, while a typical cigarette from Roll-Your-Own tobacco currently only pays AUS$0.43 in tax. To make taxes comparable on a per cigarette basis, Roll-Your-Own taxation needs to almost triple in the UK and almost double in Australia.

Dr Rob Branston, from the University of Bath’s School of Management, said: “Taxation on tobacco is one of the best weapons we have against smoking but it must be applied consistently for maximum impact. Currently, smokers in the UK are turning to Roll-Your-Own cigarettes because they are significantly cheaper than factory made, and they can sidestep small tax rises by eking out tobacco pouches to make more cigarettes. Governments in the UK and Australia need to monitor RYO use closely and tax effectively if they want to fully protect people from deadly smoking-related diseases.”

Dr Timea Partos, from King’s College London, added: “Around a quarter of smokers in the UK smoke Roll-Your-Own cigarettes and this is more common among poorer smokers as it is a way of keeping their addiction affordable. Roll-Your-Own tobacco has the advantage that smokers can use less tobacco to reduce the cost of smoking further. Governments around the world should increase taxes on Roll-Your-Own tobacco and provide more help to smokers to stop.”

This project is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), funded by the UK Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research.