The number of people smoking in the UK has dropped in recent years, as more and more people understand the health risks associated with tobacco use, and the prevalence of quitting aids such as electronic cigarettes help more people give up the habit.

Despite this however, smoking remains a major problem in the UK and internationally, killing approximately 6 million people a year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with one person dying from a smoking-related condition every six seconds worldwide.


The health impacts of smoking are widely known, for example the increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer, but even then new research is still being published revealing additional health implications. For example, the recent US Surgeon General’s report which confirms the link between AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and smoking, which has led to further research reports examining the link between smoking and vision loss.

But what about the the financial implications of having millions of smokers in a country? In this post we’ll take a look at the example of the United Kingdom, examining just how much smoking costs the UK economy and the National Health Service (NHS).

First, let’s have a look at the cost to individual smokers. Currently, a 20-a-day smoker will spend more than £3,000 a year on cigarettes – and that price is likely to go up in the coming years, as the price of tobacco has increased by more than 80% in the last ten years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that the total household expenditure on cigarettes in the UK in 2013 was £18.7 billion, a figure that will have increased in the two years since that figure was published.

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So what about the costs to society? Research commissioned by ASH in 2014 shows that the total cost to society (in England) is around £12.9 billion per year, including the cost to the NHS of treating diseases caused by smoking. The costs break down like this:

  • Cost to the NHS of treating smoking-related diseases, £2 billion
  • Loss in productivity due to premature deaths, £3 billion
  • Cost to business of breaks taken by smokers, £5 billion
  • Cost to business of smoking-related sick days, £1 billion
  • Social care costs of older smokers, £1.1 billion
  • Cost of fire caused by smokers’ materials, £391 million

That’s an incredible amount of money lost or spent each year due to smokers, and as the population continues to grow these financial implications could become more severe, as the NHS and social care continues to be stretched.


The government continues to spend money on tobacco control measures, and this spending can actually help reduce the cost to society. For example, it is estimated that approximately £380 million per year is saved by the NHS as a direct result of public health strategies such as the Stop Smoking services and the total ban on tobacco advertising.

So as you can see, even with fewer people smoking than in previous years, the health and socio-economic impacts of smoking are substantial, and they’re not likely to go away any time soon.