Sunday Dec 10, 2023

Smoking Cessation and Youth Prevention: Minister Neil O’Brien’s Visionary Address for 2030

It’s an enormous pleasure to be here today at Policy Exchange to set out the government’s next steps on vaping and smoking.

Everybody agrees that we must do more to prevent ill health in the first place – not just treat it afterwards.

Cutting smoking is one of the most evidence-based and effective interventions that we can make.

That’s why in 2019 this government set the bold ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030 – reducing smoking rates to 5% or less.

Everyone knows about the health impact of smoking.

It’s still sadly the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in England.

Up to 2 out of 3 lifelong smokers will die from smoking.

Cigarettes are the only product which will kill you if used correctly.

The positive impact of stopping smoking is immediate. For those who quit, after just a few weeks lung function increases by up to 10% and circulation improves, and the risk of heart attack is half that of a smoker after one year of quitting.

The person who quits today is the person who isn’t in a hospital bed next year. So, cutting smoking will help us hit the fourth of the PM’s 5 priorities – to cut waiting lists.

But as well as the health impact, the economic impact of smoking is also huge.

The excellent 2010 Policy Exchange paper ‘Cough up’ noted that “it is a popular myth that smoking is a net contributor to the economy”.

In fact new analysis from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) on the costs of smoking in the UK in 2022 found that smoking has a £21 billion total cost to the public purse.

To talk you through that – people used to argue that although there was a cost to the NHS from smoking, the taxes paid offset this.

But this ignores the fact that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to become sick and be out of work, and more likely to stay unwell for longer. Smokers are absent for an average of 2.7 more days per year than non-smokers.

Reducing smoking rates not only improves health outcomes and reduces the burden on the NHS, it also boosts productivity and economic growth, too.

Current smokers are 7.5% less likely to be employed compared to ‘never smokers’, and ex-smokers are 5% more likely to be employed than current smokers.

In places like Birmingham, an additional 6,000 people are out of work because of smoking. Quitting could help to put that right.

As well as the productivity impact, quitting smoking would save the average person around £2,000 a year.

In poorer parts of the country going smokefree could mean far more money circulating in the local economy. There is a positive productivity benefit but also helps to level up across the nation.

Dylan Barnes

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