Tobacco kills one person every five minutes

New analysis released by Cancer Research UK estimates that tobacco causes the death of one person every five minutes in the UK. The charity is calling on the UK Government and devolved governments to move more to swiftly reduce smoking rates.

Smoking remains the UK’s biggest cause of cancer and death. It’s responsible for an estimated 55,000 cancer deaths in the UK each year – more than a quarter (28%) of all cancer deaths

“These figures are shocking, and I can’t help watching the clock. Since the UK Government’s insufficient response to the Khan review last month, around 17,100 lives have been needlessly lost to tobacco across the UK. Over 7,600 of these were due to cancer alone,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

In England, Scotland and Wales, governments have set out ‘smokefree’ targets (defined as less than 5% of the adult population smoking). However, they are not on track to meet them. Northern Ireland is the only UK nation without a target, and so the charity is urging all political parties there to agree a new strategy to make Northern Ireland smokefree. While the tobacco control measures announced last month for England were welcome, these didn’t go nearly far enough to reach ministers’ own smokefree 2030 ambition, the Charity commented. In fact, Cancer Research UK’s modelling shows that smoking rates need to drop a staggering 70% faster than currently projected for this to happen.

The Charity stated that stop smoking services give people who smoke the best chance of quitting, but these aren’t universally available and public health campaigns continue to be axed, largely due to funding cuts. It added that the UK Government has pledged substantially less than the minimum £125m increased investment required in England alone, called for by its own independent tobacco review, to fund these vital measures. 

Cancer Research UK has launched a petition asking people to call on the Prime Minister to establish a ‘Smokefree Fund’ that would help pay for the cost of tobacco control, which is seriously underfunded. This investment could happen at no cost to the taxpayer if the UK Government made the tobacco industry foot the bill for the damage it causes. 

The Charity added that the recently announced levy on the gambling industry provides precedent for a Smokefree Fund paid for by industry and is proof that the UK Government can deliver on these types of measures.

The public has already shown support for more government intervention to reduce smoking rates, in particular, a similar levy on tobacco. In a YouGov poll conducted in July 2022 in England, 70% of people surveyed supported the Government investing more money to help England become smokefree. Of those, 83% preferred for this money to come from making the tobacco industry pay.

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