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BUDGET SPECIAL: Rebuff leaves smoking pensioners smouldering

Pensioners were disappointed by today’s budget. First came the announcement that the promise of a £140-a-week pension did not extend to people already retired.  Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to announce the hoped-for reintroduction of the pensioners’  “tobacco token” scheme of 1947.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s budget speech  dealt economically with tobacco and left pensioners in no doubt that they would not be getting any help from the public purse to maintain their smoking habits.

“As announced by my predecessor, tobacco duty rates will increase by two per cent above inflation. However, it is clear that the structure of the tobacco duty regime is being exploited to produce cheaper cigarettes. So we will change the regime to narrow the differential between these lower cost brands and the rest, and between cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco,” said Mr Osborne.

The Chancellor’s chosen version of “regime change” took the price of a pack of “cheaper” cigarettes from about £5.13 to £5.63, while more upmarket brands nudged the £7 barrier.

Pensioners’ expectations had been running high that the government would mitigate the effects of high levels of tobacco duty on elderly lower-income smokers – as was done in the  immediate post-war years. The government of the day gave financial support in the form of tokens to help  pensioners carry on smoking.

Some 1.5 million books of tokens were initially handed out. Every book contained 48 tokens, each worth two shillings (20p at today’s prices – but the comparison is completely meaningless…). The tokens could be freely exchanged for tobacco products. As a government spokesman of the time declared: “It should not be necessary for an old age pensioner himself to visit the tobacconist in order to cash his tokens, these tokens are very negotiable. Anyone who happens to have a tobacco book can walk into a tobacconist’s establishment and use them.”

Mr Osborne insisted that his measures would “reduce smoking and improve our nation’s health”.