The cost of smoking is up to at least £21.8bn

11 May 2024

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has published calculations by Landman Economics, which shows the estimated cost of smoking has increased from £17bn to £21.8bn, a rise of 25 per cent.

ASH said most of this is due to the damage smoking does to the productivity of the nation. It points out data has shown this has significantly increased over time. The productivity losses are calculated using the UK Household Longitudinal Study, allowing the analysis to be controlled for age group, gender, age of the youngest child in the household, highest qualification, ethnicity, disability, housing tenure and region.

Andrea Leadsom, public health minister, said, "Smoking is the number one preventable cause of disability, ill health, and death in this country. As well as its devastating effects on our health, this important research reveals how smoking also costs our society more than £21bn each year.

"That's why we're introducing world-leading legislation to create the first smokefree generation - saving lives, easing the strain on the NHS, and helping people to save money."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said, “Health experts gave testimony to parliament last week about the misery caused by smoking to smokers and their families and the massive burden it puts on the NHS. However, smokers lose many years of healthy life expectancy while they are still of working age, often dying long before they were due to retire. As the new figures published by ASH today demonstrate, this seriously damages the nation’s productivity, putting an even greater burden on the economy than it does on our health and care systems."

Alongside the data, a new tool has been launched to show the impact of smoking in local communities. The ASH ready reckoner tool includes additional costs calculated by Landman Economics for ASH, which for England amount to:

  • £13.8bn cost of informal and unmet care needs for those unable to secure local authority care
  • £10.4bn lost Gross Value Added (GVA) because the sale of tobacco generates far fewer jobs than other goods or services as tobacco is not grown and cigarettes are not manufactured in the UK

The total economic cost for England, including these additional costs, is £46bn.

Calculations of the UK economic cost of other risk factors, such as obesity, sometimes also include a value for life lost, in line with HM Treasury’s green book estimates of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs).If these were included, the total economic cost for the UK would be £93bn (£78.2bn for England). However, it should be noted that QALYs are a subjective measure rather than a direct financial cost, so ASH does not include them in the ASH-ready reckoner.

Howard Reed, Landman Economics, said, “There are many years of good quality data about the harms of smoking, and the prevalence of smoking in society, which underpin the Cost Benefit and Public Finance model we have developed for ASH. This has enabled us to provide a detailed analysis of the costs of smoking not just to the NHS and social care, but also to the economy as a whole.

“With every new area we look at we find additional burdens caused by smoking, on public services, the welfare system and the productivity of the nation. By ending smoking, the smokefree generation policy will lift a millstone off our economy, a millstone that is completely avoidable and totally unnecessary.”