Health: The poisonous pastime we struggle to cough up

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Once an exotic luxury, smoking is now a habit millions try and fail to kick every year. Jonathan Brown reports.

Smoking costs the NHS an estimated £27.4million every year in Leeds alone.

The tobacco-laden burden on the economy is heavy, in fact, it is believed that smoking costs the city more than £200m in sick days, smoking breaks and early deaths among other things annually.

But the economic price we pay for the poisonous pastime pales into insignificance when you consider the effect on public health.

The undeniable links between smoking and the risk of strokes, heart disease, lung and kidney cancer to name but a few have meant that, for decades, breaking the habit of a lifetime has become a seasonal choice for millions.

As one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions of all, the pledge to stub out cigarettes for good is made by around 7m people in the UK every year. But, as most of us know, it’s easier said than done.

In fact 88 per cent of ‘new year, new me’ pledges fail, which is why the Government and local authorities are jumping on January to help pull people from the haze of tobacco smoke.

Attempting to quit overnight is ambitious, and very often doomed to failure, so Leeds City Council has teamed its public health staff with NHS colleagues to help residents stub it out once and for all.

The council’s director of public health, Dr Ian Cameron, hopes that joining forces will help redress the public health balance so that more people can kick the habit.

“We have made good progress in recent decades and years. Smoking rates in the city have almost halved since I was born,” he said.

“But we have a 23 per cent smoking rate – four per cent worse than the national average – and if we can help some of Leeds’s smokers to knock the habit on the head this January, then we will not only save them thousands of pounds smoking costs, we can save them from an unpleasant death.”

The council estimates that despite smokers contributing approximately £163.2m per year in duty on tobacco products, tobacco still costs Leeds roughly one-times as much as the duty raised, resulting in around a £38m shortfall each year. It is thought that a family with two people smoking 20 cigarettes per day costs the household £5,000 per year.

Those figures proved instrumental in the collaboration between the council and NHS, meaning those facing the New Year trying to stop smoking can speak to advisors, order free quit kits and find advice through resources such as the website.

Coun Lisa Mulherin is chair of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board which recently endorsed the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control, adding weight to its commitment to help people stop smoking.

She said: “Smoking is responsible for half of the health inequalities in the UK and is responsible for more deaths than the next six causes combined. Tobacco has a cost to the economy, health and quality of life of people in Leeds. I am particularly concerned that it hits the most deprived areas of the city worst.”

All this comes just over 50 years after the Royal College of Physicians, Smoking and Health broke the news of smoking’s serious impact on public health. In the decades since smoking has become somewhat marginalised through health warnings printed on packs, the UK ban on advertising cigarettes on TV and more recently the ban on smoking in enclosed public places such as bars and pubs.

It is believed that taking advice from local stop smoking services can make it four-times more likely for smokers to successfully quit, yet many are still turning to e-cigarettes as an alternative solution.

But switching your reliance on tobacco to the nicotine in electronic cigarettes only transfers the addiction, according to Dr Justin Varney, adult health and wellbeing lead at Public Health England.

“It doesn’t cost more or take more time to be healthy. It does take will and commitment – if this was easy, everyone would be a healthy weight and be active every day,” he said.

“They’re not, because it’s challenging, but making those small changes and being realistic about what you can achieve can really get results.”


There are 10million adults who smoke cigarettes in the UK – about a sixth of the population.

In 1974, 51 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women smoked cigarettes – almost half the population.

About half of all regular smokers will eventually be killed by their addiction.

Every year more than 100,000 smokers in the UK die from smoking-related causes.

Smoking accounts for more than a quarter of cancer deaths.