England will miss 2030 smoke-free target on current trends

Author: Caroline White

England is set to miss its target of becoming smoke-free by 2030, with the overall proportion of adults who smoke down to 5%, if current smoking trends continue, says charity Cancer Research UK, in a new analysis*.

New figures reveal that England isn’t expected to become smoke-free until 2037 – seven years behind the government’s target set last year. And unless smoking in the poorest communities is tackled, health inequalities will remain rife, it says. 

The new projections indicate around a 20-year gap in smoking rates between the least and most deprived people in England, with the richest expected to achieve smoke-free in 2025, but the poorest not reaching it until the mid-2040s, says the charity.

Plans on how to achieve the 2030 target are yet to be set out. To achieve it, smoking rates would need to drop 40% faster than projected, says the charity. Currently, 14% of adults in England smoke.

Reinvesting in stop smoking services and national education campaigns that encourage smokers to quit will be essential, as both have sustained significant budgetary cuts in recent years, says Cancer Research UK.

A fixed annual charge on the tobacco industry would provide funding to reduce the £11 billion smoking-related illnesses cost society in England every year, it suggests, with the money used to fund stop smoking services.

But it’s essential the tobacco industry isn’t involved in how this levy is spent, says the charity.

Dr Katrina Brown, Cancer Research UK statistics manager and report co-author, said: “Our modelling suggests that if the 2030 target is achieved, there could be around 3.4 million fewer smokers in England compared with today. But unless government acts to make smoking rates fall faster, we’re unlikely to reach the target.

“Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer, leading to around 120 cases of cancer in England every day, so it’s vital that the government tackles tobacco to prevent illness and suffering.” Smoking kills around 115,000 people in the UK every year.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “Smoking and its catastrophic impact on health remains more common within poorer communities. So more funding is needed to help these disadvantaged groups to quit as they are increasingly being left behind.

“The tobacco industry makes more money every year than Coca Cola, Disney, Google, McDonalds and FedEx combined, while its products continue to kill people. It should be made to pay for the damage it causes, which is why we’re calling on the government to introduce an annual charge on the industry to fund these vital services that will help get England smoke-free by 2030.

“The government must act now if they are to see this smoke-free ambition become a reality.”

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, who chairs the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said that councils could help the government achieve its ambition, “but need adequate long-term funding and certainty for their public health services to help do so.”

She added: “Smoking rates overall continue to fall, which is good news, but as this report highlights, we need to keep reaching out to those most in need of support, including in the poorest areas where health inequalities are starkest.”

*Smoking prevalence projections for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland based on data to 2018/19. Prepared by Cancer Research UK, February 2020.