Smoking costs society £17bn – £5bn more than previously estimated

14 January 2022
3 min read
Published:

New economic analysis of national data for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds the cost of smoking to society is significantly higher than previous estimates have shown. Commissioned by charity ASH, the new figures [1] published on January 13 show the cost of smoking to society totals £17.04bn for England each year. This compares to the previous estimate of £12.5bn [2].

The higher estimate is a result of a new assessment of the impact of smoking on productivity [3]. Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to become ill while of working age, increasing the likelihood of being out of work and reducing the average wages of smokers. Smokers are also more likely to die while they are still of working age, creating a further loss to the economy. Together this adds up to £13.2bn.

Smokers’ need for health and social care at a younger age than non-smokers also creates costs, with smoking costing the NHS an additional £2.4bn and a further £1.2bn in social care costs. This includes the cost of care provided in the home and, for the first time, residential care costs. However, many of smokers’ care needs are met informally by friends and family. It’s estimated that to provide paid-for care to meet needs would cost society a further £14bn [4], this is not included in the overall £17bn figure but illustrates the wider burden of smoking beyond pounds and pence.

Smoking-related fires are the leading cause of fire-related deaths, and the costs of property damage, injuries and deaths amount to another £280m.

These figures represent profound losses to individuals and their families with smokers paying the price of addictions established in childhood throughout their lives.

Smokers also lose a large part of their income to tobacco – an estimated £12bn in England each year, or approximately £2,000 per smoker. Whilst the tobacco industry argue that what smokers pay in tax compensates for the cost to society, the excise tax paid for 2020/21 totalled just under £10bn [5] in England, higher than in previous years but still nowhere near the £17.04bn it cost society in 2019.

Other economic analysis commissioned by ASH last year found that if the country could stub out smoking for good, the economic benefits would go even wider as smokers switch their spending from tobacco to other goods and services which benefit the economy more. In total this would generate around half a million jobs, with a net benefit to public finances of £600m [6].

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of AHS, said, “Smoking is a drain on society. It’s a cost to individuals in terms of their health and wealth and a cost to us all because it undermines the productivity of our economy and places additional burdens on our NHS and care services. 

The government have delayed the tobacco control plan it promised last year which is now urgently needed with only eight years left to achieve the goal of England being smokefree by 2030.”

Ted Aldridge, 39 from Cheshire, quit smoking last year and wants to encourage others to follow his lead, “I had to have my ulcerated large bowel removed in 2018 as a result of colitis brought on by years of smoking and it meant that for three years I had a bag attached.  I only quit smoking a year ago after I was told I could have reattachment surgery because I wanted to have clean insides in preparation for the operation. In a year staying quit I saved £2,000 in a sealed jar, enough to pay for a holiday, a widescreen TV and a new video game console. I’m passionate about persuading others to quit too – what I say is, if you hate your lungs lads, at least love your wallet?!”

The costs have been broken down so local authorities and regions can see the impact of smoking in their area.

References

[1] Ready Reckoner tool

Summary data below:

Area Name

Number of smokers

Overall cost

Healthcare costs

Productivity costs

Social care costs

Fire costs

England

6,144,703

17.04Bn

2.40Bn

13.17Bn

1.19Bn

282.78M

East Midlands

568,751

1.55Bn

217.29M

1.19Bn

118.04M

26.56M

East of England

670,686

1.84Bn

283.67M

1.40Bn

128.38M

26.74M

London

897,243

2.98Bn

308.12M

2.48Bn

150.40M

40.98M

North East

326,257

887.62M

124.98M

684.51M

66.98M

11.14M

North West

838,793

2.15Bn

322.63M

1.60Bn

176.83M

44.38M

South East

877,585

2.59Bn

411.44M

1.97Bn

170.24M

36.47M

South West

633,500

1.66Bn

277.01M

1.23Bn

123.97M

30.72M

West Midlands

651,289

1.68Bn

242.16M

1.27Bn

130.30M

38.46M

Yorkshire and the Humber

680,118

1.74Bn

243.24M

1.34Bn

125.01M

28.03M

[2] ASH Ready Reckoner 2019 edition

[3] Reed H. The impact of smoking history on employment prospects, earnings and productivity: an analysis using UK panel data. September 2020

[4] ASH. The cost of smoking to the social care system, 2021. March 2021.

[5] HMRC. National statistics: Tobacco Bulletin. November 2021

[6] ASH. Ending smoking in the UK would increase the number of UK jobs by nearly half a million. October 2021 https://ash.org.uk/media-and-news/press-releases-media-and-news/ending-smoking-in-the-uk-would-increase-the-number-of-uk-jobs-by-nearly-half-a-million/