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No Smoking Day: why tobacco (still) isn’t a ‘done deal’

by Dan Hunt | Analysis

9 March 2016

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cigarette being broken in half

Today is National No Smoking Day. And many people will be thinking about giving up the habit once and for all.

In doing so, they will join the millions of people who’ve steadily chipped away at the nation’s smoking rates over the last few decades. But these rates don’t come down on their own unless we keep taking steps to make it easy for people to quit, as recent data on slowing declines in smoking rates have made clear.

Studies have shown that two-thirds of smokers want to quit, so it’s vital they are given support that helps people stop smoking and reduces their risk of cancer. And the best thing the government can do for the health of our country is to reduce the number of people who smoke.

They have already taken important steps to help people to both stop and not start smoking – including bans on advertising and smoking in public places. And we believe the upcoming introduction of plain, standardised packaging will have a big part to play too.

But the cold fact is that tobacco remains far from a ‘done deal’.

A tobacco-free UK

We want to see the UK free from the deadly grip of tobacco. And it’s our ambition to make this a reality – by achieving a tobacco-free UK, where less than one in 20 (five per cent of the population) smoke, by 2035.

And today, we’ve published a new report with the UK Health Forum that makes it extremely clear why we need to achieve this ambition.

We’ve taken data about the UK population and the nation’s smoking rates, projecting them forward to understand what the impact of smoking would be if current trends continue. And it makes for worrying reading.

But we’ve also looked at the benefits that would come from making smoking rates decline faster than they are.

Here are our key findings:

1. Smoking could have a staggering impact over the next 20 years

Even with declining smoking rates, we predict 1.35 million cases of disease could be caused by smoking by 2035. This number includes 580,000 cases of cancer, as well as extra cases of heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and stroke. Diseases related to tobacco could also cost an additional £3.6bn to the NHS and wider society in 2035 alone.


2. Tobacco will continue to have an appalling impact on health inequalities

The impact of tobacco has traditionally hit the poorest hardest. And the sad truth is that more than twice as many young people and adults who work in routine or manual jobs smoke, compared to those in managerial or professional roles.

And the projections we’re releasing today suggest that this shows no sign of stopping. We find that whilst 2.4 per cent of men and 2.6 per cent of women from the wealthiest 20 per cent of the UK will smoke in 2035, this is six times higher for those from the poorest 20 per cent.

Clearly this needs to change.

3. Achieving a tobacco-free UK would dramatically improve the nation’s health

Based on our analysis, hitting our target of a tobacco-free UK could lead to around 97,500 fewer cases of disease over the next 20 years, including 36,000 cancers. It would also support our economy, potentially avoiding around £615m in costs to the NHS and wider society in 2035 alone.


We can’t ignore the impact of measures aimed at reducing the number of people who smoke. Many expect smoking rates to continue falling on their own, but the latest worrying data suggest this isn’t happening. Our report is based on these steadying declines continuing in the future. But if the rates continue to slow as they have in recent years, the full impact of our predications could be even worse.

Don’t just take our word for it

levy petition hand-in

Handing in our petition

To help avoid these catastrophic numbers, we want to ensure everyone who wants to quit smoking has access to effective ways to do so.

And evidence shows that Stop Smoking Services, supported with mass media campaigns, are the best way to do this. We’ve blogged before about why they are so important, and why we’re worried they’re under threat.

So yesterday, we handed in our solution – supported by Kevin Barron MP and more than 16,000 members of the public – to secure the future of these services.

We’re proposing a modest levy on the profits made by the tobacco industry – a group who made global profits of more than £30 billion in 2013 – to pay for the damage they cause. The money raised is one way to pay for vital Stop Smoking Services and mass media campaigns that we know help people quit.

We hope the Government will listen. If they don’t, the results could be catastrophic.

Dan Hunt is a policy advisor at Cancer Research UK