Smoking costs England £17.3 billion each year

ASH have released the findings of their commissioned analysis on the impact of smoking on productivity in England, and it has really laid bare the catastrophic toll of smoking on the nation’s economy, and reignited calls for a ‘polluter pays’ levy on big tobacco companies.

The £17.3bn cost of smoking annually
The economic analysis from Action on Smoking and Health has taken an in depth look at the real cost of smoking to England’s economy, and in a time when you can hardly go a day without hearing the phrase ‘cost of living crisis’, the numbers are truly staggering.

The main bulk of this cost comes from loss of productivity, or the effect on earnings and employment caused by smoking, which is responsible for £14bn in losses. This includes:

·£6.6bn lost to smoking related unemployment
·£6.1bn lost to smoking related lost earnings
·£1.3bn in smoking related early death

Smoking related ill health is the main culprit behind this impact, with smokers facing losing their jobs, reduction in wages, and being more likely to die prematurely. This not only takes a huge toll on the individuals and their families, but also on the country’s economy.

But when you take into account the cost to the NHS and social care that number skyrockets even further to £17.3bn. £1.9bn of this is the cost of smoking related hospital admissions and treatments annually, and £1.1bn is the cost to local authorities in England for care provided to those suffering smoking related illnesses later in life.

Scarily enough, this number does not even take into account the social care that is not funded by local authorities. A previous report from ASH on the cost of smoking to the social care system found that when you take into account the implicit cost of replacing informal and unmet care, the care that is either not being provided or is being provided or funded by families, this would cost an additional £14bn annually.

What does a ‘polluter pays’ levy mean?
The tobacco industry rakes in billions of pounds in profits each year as smokers and their families pay the price. For many these addictions were established in childhood and have unfortunately remained with them for most of their lives.

ASH along with other health campaigners around the country are urging the government to bring in a ‘polluter pays’ levy on tobacco companies. The ‘polluter pays’ principle effectively means that those who are responsible for the damage should bear the cost of managing the effects and prevention. This would mean that the tobacco industry would be taxed and the money would go towards prevention and treatment, calls for which have been growing in the last couple of years.

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, explained:

“Smoking is a massive burden on society. It costs individuals in terms of their health and wealth and it costs us all when smokers are too ill to work.

“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable ill-health and death in the country but resources to tackle it have been reduced. Recent announcements by Public Health Minister will not be enough to meet the Government’s ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030.

“We urgently need a levy on tobacco companies to pay for services which support people to quit smoking and to prevent uptake among young people.”

Smokers spend £2,451 on average per year
There are currently around 5,830,000 smokers in England, and the analysis also shows that smokers lose a large part of their income to tobacco, an estimated £14.3bn in England each year, which averages out to £2,451 per smoker.

While the number of smokers has continued to decline in recent years, there is still a long way to go if we hope to achieve the government’s aim of England being smokefree by 2030. Reducing smoking would not only help ease the pressure on the NHS and the UK’s economy, but also on the individual family budget. This disposable income could then be used on non-tobacco products in their communities and boost local economy.

The economic analysis from ASH has culminated in their Ready Reckoner tool which can help local authorities identify the cost of smoking in their area. Bob Blackman MP, Chairman of the APPG on Smoking and Health, explained:

"As a former council leader, I know a key priority for all local authorities is to deliver economic growth, increase employment opportunities and protect their communities from the cost of living crisis. The ASH Ready Reckoner is a valuable tool enabling every local authority to analyse the damage smoking is doing to their community and demonstrate how tackling smoking can boost the local economy as well as protecting families from the pain of losing loved ones too early.”

An example of this comes from the London Post, who have used the tool to isolate the economic toll of smoking to London alone, which equates to £3bn annually.

Tracy Parr, Programme Director at the London Tobacco Alliance and Stop Smoking London, weighed in:

“These figures serve as a stark reminder of the devastating impact smoking has on both individuals and society as a whole. Tobacco dependence is leaving a trail of premature deaths across London and robbing people of precious years of good health.

“The tobacco industry makes billions of pounds in profit while smokers and their families suffer. Collective action against tobacco dependence holds the potential to make a profound difference in curbing smoking-related harm by boosting prevention and treatment efforts, creating a healthier, more vibrant future for London.”

One million smokers to be offered vape kits
This analysis comes not long after the government’s announcement of the world’s first ‘swap to stop’ scheme which will see one million smokers across the UK being provided with a vaping starter kit and stop smoking support.

This promising scheme could prove to be a crucial step towards achieving the smokefree 2030 goal, and has been praised by many for recognising the vital role that e-cigarettes can play in assisting with stop smoking attempts.

This initiative was likely heavily influenced by the recent Khan review which aimed to inform the government on the best way to tackle smoking and was clear in the view that e-cigarettes would be a vital tool.

In their Nicotine vaping in England: 2022 evidence update the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities found that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking, and many studies have found e-cigarettes to me a more effective tool for successful quit attempts than other nicotine replacement therapies.

With this ground-breaking scheme coming into effect we can certainly see that the government is attempting to take the bold action required to crack down on smoking, but it does make you wonder what further initiatives could be actioned if the ‘polluter pays’ levy were to be introduced for the tobacco industry, providing funding specifically aimed at the issue of prevention and treatment.

At a glance
·Smoking costs England £17.3 billion annually in loss of productivity, NHS treatment, and social care

·There are currently around 5,830,000 smokers in England, each of which spends an average of £2,451 on smoking per year

·Action on Smoking and Health and other health campaigners are calling for the government to bring in a ‘polluter pays’ levy on tobacco companies