New research has revealed that the cost to the NHS in England of treating smoking related illness reached £2.7 billion a year by 2007; around £50 million every week.
The data, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Conference in Birmingham this week, form part of a ten year review of the 1998 Smoking Kills White Paper, called ‘Beyond Smoking Kills’.
This new report – published by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in collaboration with Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation and endorsed by over 100 health and welfare organisations – shows that when Smoking Kills was published ten years ago the cost of smoking to the NHS in England was estimated to be up to £1.7 billion a year. Using NHS spending data this new report reveals this cost has risen by £1 billion despite a drop in the number of smokers. Current UK tax revenue from tobacco is around £10 billion.
The reason behind the continued rise in cost to the NHS is a combination of factors. These include more expensive treatments and better survival times for people with smoking-related diseases, combined with a better understanding of the range of diseases caused by smoking.
Researchers analysed the cost to the NHS of all smoking-related conditions including respiratory disorders, heart disease, cancer and circulatory conditions.
The report shows that tobacco plays a key role in many of the UK’s main killer diseases. Smoking related illness accounts for a quarter of the cost of hospital care for adult respiratory disease and one third of the cost for circulatory diseases among adults aged between 35-64.
Researchers also highlight that an estimated £380 million has been saved by the NHS as a result of public health strategies aimed at reducing the prevalence of smoking. The ban on tobacco advertising, mass media campaigns to encourage people to quit and the creation of stop smoking clinics are among the measures that have contributed to fewer people smoking.
Around 22 per cent of the population currently smoke compared to around 28 per cent of the population back in 1998.
Tobacco consumption is recognised as the UK’s single greatest cause of preventable illness and early death with over 100,000 people dying each year from smoking-related diseases.
“Smoking Kills” provided the first national tobacco control strategy that helped put the UK among world leaders in tobacco control. The white paper set out the scale of the problem and set targets for reducing smoking rates. It also set out an action plan including banning tobacco advertising and providing support for smokers wanting to quit.
Christine Callum, who led the research, said: “Cigarette smoking in England is responsible for one in six deaths of adults aged 35 and over. In addition to lives being cut short many smokers also experience years of mild to severely debilitating ill-health, the trauma of associated medical procedures and dependence on powerful medication. Whether in quality of life or financial impact on the NHS, the cost of smoking represents a price we should never have had to pay.”
Deborah Arnott, director of ASH which commissioned the Beyond “Smoking Kills” report, said: “Ten years have passed since Smoking Kills was published and we’ve had tremendous success in helping smokers who want to quit. Ten years ago there were nearly 12 million smokers in England and now there are only 9 million, yet still the vast majority of smokers say they want to quit, so there is much more to be done. From the evidence of the last ten years we know what works, and an ambitious new strategy could halve the number of smokers by 2015”.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “These large economic figures shouldn’t distract from the tragic human cost of smoking. The harsh reality is that half of all long-term smokers will die from this addiction so it’s vital we continuing working to reduce the impact that tobacco has on the lives of so many people. Removing tobacco products from sight at the point of sale, removing cigarette vending machines and making plain packaging compulsory for tobacco products are just three of the measures we would like introduced to help protect people from tobacco and save lives.“