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Attention herbal smokers!

July 5, 2012

I’ve had a reply from HMRC on the herbal smoking products issue that I referred to yesterday.  Here it is.

Dear Wendy

I’m sorry you didn’t make the deadline, that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore
your comments. I understand that on the face of it our policy might seem
a little unfair or complicated. It is certainly not intended to be
either.

Legislation for tobacco tax goes back quite a way and has to cover many
possibilities. In the past there have been tobacco substitutes that were
intended to replace tobacco directly. That explains the complication
that you highlighted.

In order to keep tax regimes for tobacco as close as possible across
Europe, individual countries shape their laws around European laws,
these are known as Directives. The Directive has long held that unless
smoking products have proven medicinal qualities they must all be taxed
in the same way. This is regardless of whether they contain tobacco and
is certainly, in part, because the harmful effects of smoking come from
the smoke and the addictive aspect comes from nicotine (if there is
any).

UK law has to be in line with the Directives and in this case it wasn’t.
Whilst the market for herbal products was very small in relation to
tobacco products, it was growing and new products were appearing. These
products may not have been on the High Street but they put the spotlight
on the issue and made changes even more necessary.

This isn’t though a question of bureaucracy and the European Union
forcing our policies, it’s a question of keeping the tobacco tax system
aligned with our neighbours and preventing tax loss through what was
basically a loophole.

As you will see when I publish the results of the consultation, this is
a complex issue with arguments from different directions. The bottom
line is though that smoking is dangerous whether tobacco or herbal
mixtures and therefore there is not a strong argument  for continuing to
treat herbal smoking products more favourably than their counterparts.

I hope you find the above helpful in explaining what this policy is
about and that although we are unable to resist the arguments  to change
our policy, we recognise that it will be difficult for some an so wish
to make the implementation as easy as possible.

Kind regards

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