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New report calls for UK to become ‘tobacco-free’ by 2035

Tobacco-related diseases on track to cost £3.6bn per year

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Tobacco will continue to devastate UK lives, with around 1.35 million new cases of smoking-related illnesses expected to occur over the next 20 years.

These are the findings from a new report* published this week. If recent trends were to continue, Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum calculate that the total – equivalent to a city the size of Sheffield – would include 580,600 cases of cancer.

Current trends suggest the number of smokers will fall to 10% by 2035, but Cancer Research UK is urging the government to adopt a bold ambition for a tobacco free UK – meaning only around 5% smoke in the next 20 years.

Achieving this ambition could mean 97,000 fewer new cases of smoking-related disease over the next 20 years, including around 36,000 cases of cancer. Achieving a tobacco-free ambition would then avoid around £67 million in direct NHS costs, and £548 million in indirect societal costs in 2035.

Without this reduction, in 2035 alone, tobacco-related diseases could cost an additional £3.6 billion a year – made up of £542 million to the NHS and £3.03 billion to wider society, the report reveals. 

Moreover, smoking continues to have a greater impact on the less well off than the wealthier in society. Around 15% of men and women from the most deprived groups are predicted to smoke in 2035, compared to just 2.5% from the more affluent.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “Decades of work have gone into reducing the number of people who will be affected by a tobacco-related illness. There’s been great progress, but unless more is done, another generation of lives will be devastated by smoking.

“Recent figures have started to show that the decline in smoking rates is stalling so these estimates could be considered optimistic. If we lose focus then the burden of preventable disease could threaten the sustainability of the NHS and social care.”

Alongside publication of the report, Cancer Research UK is submitting more than 16,000 signatures of support for its “Cough Up Big Tobacco” campaign to Parliament. The petition calls on the tobacco industry to pay ‘a tobacco levy’, of the equivalent of around one penny for every cigarette sold in the UK, to make up the shortfall in funds for local stop smoking services.

Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the UK Health Forum said: “Our projections show smoking will still take a terrible toll on people’s health and the economy and increasingly this will be borne by the less well off in our society. All smokers should be offered the chance to quit and Stop Smoking Services, supported by high profile media campaigns, are the best way to achieve this”

Sir Kevin Barron MP, vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health said: “The Government can't be complacent and must set bold ambitions to achieve a tobacco free future, matched with the necessary funding to make this happen. Making the Tobacco Industry pay for vital Stop Smoking Services and mass media campaigns through a levy will help reduce the number of people smoking and save lives.”

* Aiming high: why the UK should aim to be tobacco-free. A report by Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum. March 2016.

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