Smoking-related poverty concentrated in the North and Midlands

22 July 2021
1 min read

New analysis of national data commissioned by health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds that three in five of all households containing smokers living in poverty live in the North and Midlands, while fewer than one in five are in London and the South East. The link between smoking and disadvantage is well established, but this new analysis throws light on how the impact of smoking on local communities is exacerbated when household incomes are also lower.

Research was undertaken using national government data on households. Nationally, one in five (21 per cent) of smoking households in the UK were living below the poverty line, amounting to a million households. However, when tobacco expenditure was included in the assessment of poverty this increased to nearly a third (32 per cent) – equivalent to 1.5 million households.

But the impact was not evenly spread around the country. Smokers in the North and Midlands were more likely to be in poverty than those in London and the South East. For example, 42 per cent of smoking households in the North East were below the poverty line when their tobacco expenditure was taken into account, compared to 17 per cent in London. Taken together, the North and Midlands had 730,000 smoking households living in poverty, compared to 215,000 in London and the South East.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of ASH said, “Smokers are more likely to be below the poverty line wherever they live, but for those in parts of the country where incomes are lower, smoking has a much bigger impact. This disparity must be taken into account by the government in the development of future strategies, to improve public health and level up society.”

The analysis also assessed the extent to which smoking related poverty was distributed between households with and without employment. While those households without any earners were over-represented, half the smoking households in poverty had at least 1 earning member, showing the contribution smoking is making to in-work poverty.

The 1.5 million smoking households in poverty, once tobacco was taken into account, included:

  • 2 million working age adults
  • 400,000 pensioners
  • 1 million children

Hazel added, “Securing the government’s vision of a smoke free England by 2030 will have a profound impact on the wealth and wellbeing of poorer families, and reinforce broader economic strategies to build back better after Covid-19.”