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The Real Cost Of Smoking

The International Longevity Centre UK has released a report arguing that reducing smoking rates will pay dividends for the NHS and help the nation to build back better

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A new report released by the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) argues that anti-smoking measures could save billions across the UK economy. The ILC’s report “Up in smoke” highlights the costs of smoking not just to individuals’ health, but to the sustainability of the broader healthcare system and to the public purse as the Government aims to “build back better” from the pandemic.

The ILC repeats that smoking is directly responsible for 77,600 deaths per year in England. Tobacco use has been declining in the UK for decades but 14.1% of UK adults still smoke. Many ex-smokers are coping with the long-term effects from smoking, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The “Up in smoke” report, finds:

  • A typical life-long smoker aged 30 can expect to lose about 10 years of life expectancy compared to someone who has never smoked.
  • Men who have never smoked enjoy 5 extra years of life free from disability than current or ex-smokers, and this rises to 5.8 years for women.
  • The health impacts of smoking limit many people’s ability to work – if current or ex-smokers had never smoked, overall earnings could be 1.9% higher, boosting the UK economy by £19.1 billion every year.

The UK Government has stated it holds an aim to go “smoke-free” in England by 2030.

The problem with this, according to the ILC, is that funding for national education and smoking cessation campaigns and advisory and support services has been slashed significantly since the Government’s austerity drive.

Failing to focus on alternative nicotine products, the ILC suggests:

  • Raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21 (and gradually introduce further raises in the future).
  • Reduce tobacco affordability by increasing UK tobacco tax each year in stages from the current level of RPI +2% to RPI +5%.
  • Reduce the size of the illicit market by introducing a tobacco licensing system for retailers and wholesalers.
  • Support smoking cessation programmes and behaviour change campaigns at the local level.

Professor Les Mayhew, Head of Global Research at ILC and Professor of Statistics at The Business School argued: “It’s no secret that smoking is bad for our health, but what is lesser known is that it’s also bad for our economy. We need people to stay healthy for longer and despite a decline in smoking we are not out of the woods yet.

“The pandemic has shown that smokers and ex-smokers are more likely to end up in hospital if they have COVID. Over the life course they work fewer years, are less productive and quit work sooner. Their later years are more likely to be marred by ill health which means less time for consumption, volunteering and community work.”


  1. The International Longevity Centre UK -
  2. “Up in smoke: The impact of smoking on health and economic activity” report -

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Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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