10 Oct 2008
The annual cost of smoking to the National Health Service in England has risen from £1.7 ($US2.9) billion a year in 1998 to £2.7 ($US 4.6) billion this year, according to a recently published report by UK based charity Action on Smoking and Health.
According to the report, the figures would have risen to more than £3 ($US5) billion a year if government action, health education and changing social attitudes had not lead to a decrease in numbers of smokers from nearly 12 million to just over nine million.
The report finds tobacco manufacturers are misleading smokers and young people about the safety of cigarettes and calls for radical steps to prevent young people from starting to smoke as well as curbing tobacco marketing.
The report calls on the government to introduce a comprehensive tobacco control strategy to help another 4.5 million smokers quit by 2115. This can be done by:
• Plain packaging for all tobacco products;
• Prohibiting displays of tobacco products in shops;
• Clamping down on smuggling; and
• Providing smokers with safer non-tobacco smoking alternatives.
Although it is illegal for manufacturers to use trademarks, text or signs to suggest a tobacco product is less harmful than another, the report says that branding and packaging is still misleading young people into thinking a product is safer for their health by using lighter colored branding or words such as ‘smooth’.
According to the report, one in seven fifteen-year-olds regularly smokes and two thirds of regular smokers start before they are 18. With such high figures, strategies that reduce the attractiveness of smoking and cigarette accessibility to young people are crucial in lowering smoking take up rates among young people.
The report also focuses on tackling the stark health inequalities caused by smoking and smoking related disease. Smoking rates in the wealthiest parts of England are as low as 12 per cent but in the most deprived areas as high as 52 per cent.
Chair of the report’s editorial board Peter Kellner says there is a terrible gap in life expectancy between Britain’s rich and poor. “Smoking is by far the biggest single factor, accounting for half the difference,” he said. “A child born today who never smokes will live, on average, 10 years longer than a child who takes up smoking. The younger a smoker starts, the harder it is for them to quit.”
According to the report, tackling tobacco smuggling is particularly important because less well-off smokers are more likely to buy cheap illicit tobacco.
The report marks the 10th anniversary of the UK government’s first tobacco control white paper called Smoking Kills. Although the report recognizes the great progress made with tobacco control in the last 10 years, it concludes that much more is needed to protect children and reduce inequalities caused by tobacco use.
Kellner says the report sets out a comprehensive strategy for government action to: protect children from exposure to smoke and smoking; to support smokers to quit; and to help smokers, who are not yet ready to quit, reduce the harm they cause themselves.
“Smoking remains the greatest public health problem in our society but we now have a great opportunity to stop the next generation from inheriting this lethal habit,” he said.
The report was funded by Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation. It is also supported by more than 100 health and welfare organizations.
Download the full Beyond Smoking Kills report.
Download the report’s executive summary.