Consulting Report

The EU Tobacco Tax Structure: Impact on Prices, Revenues, and Smoking Patterns

Commissioned by Japan Tobacco International

The EU Tobacco Tax Structure: Impact on Prices, Revenues, and Smoking Patterns

Multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF have made the argument that specific excise taxes for cigarette taxation can provide significant benefits over ad valorem excise taxes. Chief among the benefits they identify are:

Across the EU, Member States have been restructuring their excise tax systems to create an increasingly prominent role for specific excise taxes. Between 2010 and 2023, authorities in the EU opted to rebalance towards specific excise and away from ad valorem excise, with the average ad valorem rate across Member States falling from 36.7% to 27.0% of retail selling price (RSP). As a result, in this period the average specific excise burden across the EU increased from 30.9% to 44.5% of total taxation.

However, this shift has not been uniform across Member States and the approach to cigarette taxation has diverged. Countries like Denmark and Sweden have moved to an almost total reliance on specific excise taxes. Meanwhile in some Member States such as Italy and Spain, the share of specific excise tax in total taxation has remained very low.

In this study, we examine the experience of eight EU Member States that have all taken differing approaches to cigarette excise policy in recent years. In four countries that have rebalanced to achieve a higher proportional use of specific excise taxes since 2010, we found excise tax receipts to have remained stable or increased, despite flat or falling rates of legal consumption.

In four countries that have not significantly rebalanced towards specific excise taxes, the results were more mixed. Italy and Spain, notably, have seen a decline in their cigarette excise tax receipts over the period, despite below-average declines in cigarette consumption. Ad valorem-based excise tax systems do not provide as strong an incentive for manufacturers to raise prices as a specific excise-based system would. In addition, ad valorem dominated excise tax systems can encourage downward substitution from consumers for cheaper alternatives, exacerbating the decline in excise tax receipts.

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