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Tobacco kills one person every five minutes

by Amy Warnock | News

31 May 2023

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a smoking cigarette

New analysis released on World No Tobacco Day by Cancer Research UK estimates that tobacco causes the death of one person every five minutes in the UK.* 

The charity is urgently calling on the UK Government and devolved governments to not be complacent and do more to swiftly reduce smoking rates.    

Smoking remains the UK’s biggest cause of cancer and death. It’s responsible for an estimated 55,000 cancer deaths in the UK each year – more than a quarter (28%) of all cancer deaths.  

“These figures are shocking, and I can’t help watching the clock. Since the UK Government’s insufficient response to the Khan review last month, around 17,100 lives have been needlessly lost to tobacco across the UK. Over 7,600 of these were due to cancer alone,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. 

Missing the target 

In England, Scotland and Wales, governments have set out ‘smokefree’ targets (defined as less than 5% of the adult population smoking). However, they are not on track to meet them.  

Northern Ireland is the only UK nation without a target, and so the charity urges all political parties there to agree a new strategy to make Northern Ireland smokefree. 

While the tobacco control measures announced last month for England were welcome, these didn’t go nearly far enough to reach ministers’ own smokefree 2030 ambition.  

In fact, Cancer Research UK’s modelling shows that smoking rates need to drop a staggering 70% faster than currently projected for this to happen. 

Stop smoking services give people who smoke the best chance of quitting, but these aren’t universally available and public health campaigns continue to be axed, largely due to successive funding cuts. Yet the UK Government have pledged substantially less than the minimum £125m increased investment required in England alone, called for by its own independent tobacco review, to fund these vital measures.   

Pushing for change 

To coincide with World No Tobacco Day, Cancer Research UK has launched a petition asking people to call on the Prime Minister to establish a ‘Smokefree Fund’ that would help pay for the cost of tobacco control, which is seriously underfunded.  

This investment could happen at no cost to the taxpayer if the UK Government made the tobacco industry foot the bill for the damage it causes.   

The recently announced levy on the gambling industry provides precedent for a Smokefree Fund paid for by industry and is proof that the UK Government can deliver on these types of measures. 

And most importantly, the public has already shown support for more government intervention to reduce smoking rates, in particular, a similar levy on tobacco. In a YouGov poll conducted in July 2022 in England, 70% of people surveyed supported the Government investing more money to help England become smokefree. Of those, 83% preferred for this money to come from making the tobacco industry pay.**

Sign the petition 

With your support, Cancer Research UK are calling on the UK Government to better fund stop smoking services and public health campaigns to help people in the UK quit smoking and prevent cancer across all nations. 

This money need not come at the expense of the taxpayer. Every year, the tobacco industry makes hundreds of millions in profit off the number one cause of cancer. And it is only fair that the tobacco industry foot the bill for the damage caused – by funding the services and measures we need. 

Sign the petition and join Cancer Research UK in coming together against tobacco, to tackle smoking and beat cancer for all. 


A man and woman dancing and smiling with the text 'for more moments that matter #SmokefreeUK'

“Our supporters are telling us they want governments across the UK to urgently deliver the vital funding required to address the leading cause of cancer and save countless lives,” said Mitchell.   

“Enough is enough and we’re calling on our supporters to join us in signing a petition that we’ll present to the Prime Minister urging him to take bold and decisive action to achieve a smokefree UK.” 

Taking action 

Taking action to help people who smoke quit and stop others from starting will help more people to live longer, more productive lives, free from cancer. 

It will also enable the Prime Minister to deliver on one of his key pledges to cut NHS waiting lists – in England alone, one person is admitted to hospital every minute due to smoking. 

There are also huge economic benefits to be had as smoking costs the UK public purse around £20.6 billion per year. 

To help protect the next generation from a future of ill-health and disease, Cancer Research UK also wants the UK Government to consult on raising the age of sale of tobacco.   

Without strong government action, smoking rates and cancers caused by smoking will persist. 

Learn more about Cancer Research UK’s Smokefree campaign and sign the petition.

* Calculated by the Cancer Intelligence Team at Cancer Research UK. Based on 124,908 tobacco-attributable deaths in UK persons of all ages in 2019, equating to one death every 4.21 minutes. This includes all disease types.  ** All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1780 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13 – 14 October 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults in England (aged 18+). 

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