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The most deprived in England won’t be smokefree until after 2050

Sophie Wedekind
by Sophie Wedekind | News

28 September 2023

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broken cigarette on yellow background

New analysis, published by Cancer Research UK, has revealed that the most deprived 10% of the population in England won’t be smokefree until after 2050.  

That’s 20 years behind the Government’s 2030 smokefree target for England.  

In England, Scotland and Wales, governments have set out ‘smokefree’ targets – defined as less than 5% of the adult population smoking. 

While smoking rates continue to decline in England, this trend has slowed down. And even more so for some people than others. If this trend continues, the data projects that the least deprived communities in England could be smokefree by 2024 while the most deprived communities are falling behind on this target by almost 30 years. 

“There are nearly twice as many cancer cases caused by smoking in the poorest areas compared to the wealthiest in England,” says Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. 

“Cigarettes are designed to be addictive, and these most deprived groups will not be smokefree without robust funding behind stop smoking services and public health campaigns. This will take investment, and it’s the tobacco industry – not the taxpayer – who should be made to foot the bill.”

No person left behind

Some people, including those in deprived areas, are more likely to smoke and find it harder to stop.  

This is likely due to a number of factors, including social, housing and income pressures that can make it harder to quit, as well as unequal access to stop smoking services in certain areas.  

Historically, marketing by the tobacco industry has also been targeted towards some groups more than others. 

All of these factors mean that people living in more deprived areas are more likely to be around people who smoke, and have family members who smoke, which can mean they are more likely to smoke themselves.  

“It’s pretty clear that deprivation is linked to taking up substances, like cigarettes which leads to a lifelong addiction,” says Elizabeth Bailey, Campaigns ambassador for Smokefree UK.  

“Where my family and I grew up, nearly everybody smoked. My father was an engineer and started smoking in his early teens, my Uncle died of lung cancer in the 1970s – it was just considered normal.”   

The evidence shows that most people who smoke want to stop. But people need the tools and support to succeed. 

Numerous opportunities to take bold action to end smoking have been missed by the UK Government. Budgets for stop smoking services have been repeatedly cut and the access to these services vary greatly across the country.

Susie’s Story

Like many people who smoke in the UK, Susie started smoking as a teenager. She continued until she was 62 years old, 4 years before being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.

“Both my parents died of cancer, But despite this, I still considered it to be something that happens to other people – not me. Until 5 years before my diagnosis I smoked 10 to 12 cigarettes a day. When I was a teenager everyone else was doing it, and by the time I understood the health risks, I was hooked.

“It took me years to quit, I only managed it after I was told it would take much longer to recover from an operation on a broken wrist if I was smoking. Without that motivation, I don’t know that I would have ever managed it on my own.

“People who are just like how I was, wanting to quit but finding it tough, need support to stop smoking now. The lack of funding to help them will cost lives.”


A call to action 

These figures are being released as the charity calls on the UK Government to make smokefree a priority for all, and not leave the most deprived behind.  

Earlier this month, Cancer Research UK handed in a petition to the Prime Minister. It was signed by around 13,600 supporters, calling for better funded stop smoking services and public health campaigns to help people in the UK quit smoking and prevent more cases of cancer. 

“This problem is fixable with bold political action,” continues Mitchell.   

“That’s why at Cancer Research UK we’re developing a long-term manifesto that will provide a blueprint to transform cancer prevention and survival in England. We look forward to sharing our vision and will work with the UK Government, NHS England, and political parties to make this a reality.” 

A Smokefree UK  

Last year we launched our Smokefree UK campaign. We’re calling for the UK Government to Stop the Start and Start the Stop.  

We’re campaigning for more action to prevent young people from smoking, including a consultation on raising the age of sale of tobacco, and increased funding for the measures and services needed to help people quit.  

Anyone can support Cancer Research UK’s Smokefree campaign by getting in touch with their MP today and asking them to take action to tackle smoking, prevent cancer and help to build pressure on the Government in Westminster to act.