By Vexen Crabtree 2018
Smoking is the UK's biggest cause of preventable death and 100,000 people die from related diseases every year1. The health of the nation affects everyone in the long-run2 - although in 2016/17 tax on cigarettes earned the government £7.6 billion3, in 2010 statistics showed the total cost to the economy of smoking (including NHS costs) was £13.7 billion4. 474,000 hospital admissions every year in England are directly due to smoking3.
But things are moving in the right direction. Since the 1970s, the government has enacted a stream of laws to improve public health: strong restrictions on advertising cigarettes, enforced health warnings on packs, increased costs, banned sports sponsorships and banned smoking in public enclosed spaces.3,5,6. Each of those measures was fought through long legal and PR campaigns by the tobacco industry5,6. But it is working, and smoking rates in Great Britain have declined from 50% in 1974 to 16% in 2016, and the spectre of childhood smoking has declined to 3%.3,7
|Compared to the World (2014)10|
|Pos.||Higher is worse10|
|109||Papua New Guinea||826|
|Compared to Europe|
|Pos.||Smoking Rates (2014)|
Lower is better10
Higher is better
|36||Czech Rep.||2 194||78.78|
|37||Bosnia & Herzegovina||2 233||76.63|
|Europe Avg||1 648||78.36|
"In the 60s, advertising cigarettes on TV was banned. In the 70s, the government introduced health warnings on packs. In the last 20 years, the battle has intensified"'5... increasing bans on various forms of advertising and the health warnings on packs got bigger and more gruesome. Sports sponsorship was banned.
In 2007, England followed the example of Eire and other countries, and banned smoking in public enclosed spaces6; it was the last country in the UK (following Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to do so6. The government hoped that a side-effect of cleaner environments would be to help current smokers quit, "and perhaps prevent some people from starting"6.
“Keeping places smoke free is just one of the public-health measures introduced in the last 50 years to reduce smoking. Others have included restrictions on tobacco advertising, warnings on cigarette packets, raising the age of sale to 18, and increasing the price through taxes. In 2011, the British government announced plans to ban the display of cigarettes in shops, and announced that they were considering a ban on any kind of branding, requiring plain generic packaging instead.”
These measures and increased have meant that in the ten years since 2006, tobacco has become "27 per cent less affordable"3.
Some newspaper outlets have claimed that measures such as banning public in enclosed public spaces were "controversial", even though 75% of adults supported the move6. Some of the same papers have ran campaigns against many public-health measures that aim to reduce the harm done by smoking.
Smoking is intertwined deeply with "trash culture". If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. Such was the conclusion of the 1999 publication from the Office for National Statistics entitled "Smoking, drinking and drug use among young teenagers in 1998". A key factor of trash culture is that it is self-promoting. Once trash habits become accepted, they spread themselves.
Smoking is higher amongst those who are already in trouble: single mothers smoke at 55%, most homeless do and practically 100% of drug addicts do12.
“Today only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers do.”
“As annual income increases prevalence of smoking generally decreases. In 2016 those with an annual income of less than £10,000 were almost twice as likely to smoke as those with an annual income of £40,000 or more.”
Amongst young teenagers, "the likelihood of having ever used drugs is strongly related to smoking experience: 63% of regular smokers had used drugs, compared with only 1% of those who had never smoked". With drinking the statistics are also similar and cyclic: 44% of young teenagers who drink also get involved in drugs, compared with only 1% of children who don't drink. And importantly, in case it is doubted that all these factors propagate one another, "virtually no children who had never smoked or drunk had ever used drugs".
Parenting Issues: In 1991 in the UK 16% of 11-15 year-old children smoked, but by 2016 this had fallen to 3% (but still, that's far too many children)7; they are more likely to smoke if they live with others who do so3. There has also been improvement in how many mothers remain smokers whilst carrying a baby to term, falling to below 11% in 20163.
Current edition: 2018 May 26
Parent page: The Side Effects of Smoking. Which Countries Smoke Most?
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source. A newspaper.
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation.
(2014) Burning Desire: The Seduction of Smoking. A two-part television documentary first shown on 2014 May 29 featuring the veteran journalist and investigator, Peter Taylor. www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045qf9q.
(2017 Sep 14) Briefing Paper: Statistics on Smoking. UK Government House of Common briefing paper number CBP 7648.
Nutt, David. David Nutt was the UK's chairman of the Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs.
(2017) Drugs. Subtitled: "Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs". Published by UIT. An e-book.
Public Health England (PHE)
(2013) Our priorities for 2013/14. Booklet published in 2013 April. PHE are the government body responsible for national health and wellbeing. PHE publication gateway number 2013007. www.gov.uk/phe.