Smoking costs London £3bn a year, analysis finds

A cigarette burning on an ashtray

A cigarette burning on an ashtray - Credit: PA

The cost of smoking to London is £3bn a year, according to new analysis, with numbers of smokers varying across the city.

The finding comes from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which puts the figure £800m higher than previously estimated.

It found £308m is spent on healthcare, £150m on social care, and £41m on fires caused by smokers. Lost productivity costs London £2.5bn a year, a figure which takes into account smokers’ increased likelihood of missing work and earning less due to ill health.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Smoking is a drain on society. It’s a cost to individuals in terms of their health and wealth and a cost to us all because it undermines the productivity of our economy and places additional burdens on our NHS and care services. 

“Nationally, government must publish their promised plan for tackling smoking but local councils must also seize the initiative and create plans for their communities that account for the tremendous burden caused by smoking.”

According to Health Department figures, of the London boroughs, Islington has the highest proportion of current adult smokers at 18.9%.

The rate in Westminster is 17.3% and in Haringey it is 14.9% but, by contrast, the numbers are far lower in Brent (11.2%), Camden (9.3%), Barnet (6.8%) and Hackney (10.9%). The average for London is 11.1%.

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Islington has the highest number of hospital admissions attributable to smoking, at 1,728 per 100,000. Smoking-related mortality in the borough is high at 240 per 100,000 deaths. In Barnet, only 893 per 100,000 hospital admissions are attributable to smoking, and only 131 per 100,000 deaths.

Notably, Camden, Haringey and Hackney have the second, third, and fourth most ex-smokers of all London boroughs, with 31.6%, 28.5% and 28.4% respectively. 

The difference between the high levels of Camden’s ex-smokers and Islington’s current smokers could relate to the ages of each borough’s population. Islington has significantly more 20-29 year olds than Camden, which has far more residents older than 40. Young people are more likely to smoke, whereas older age groups are more likely to have quit.

A shop's cigarette dispenser

A shop's cigarette dispenser - Credit: PA

Camden resident Josh Dubell said he started smoking as an 18 year old because it was “cool”. The 34-year-old stopped smoking in January 2020 after 15 years. 

Since quitting, Josh said he has improved his fitness and lost weight. 

He said: “When I was in my late teens, I was in a band. We used to play gigs in Camden, Shoreditch, and Islington, all of those areas.

"Back in the day, I would say that probably 80-90% of us were smokers. Everyone was a smoker. Everybody would go in a bar and smoke.”

Josh now works in Kentish Town, where he has noticed a change in attitudes. 

“If we're talking about north London, I don't really see so many smokers around,” he said. “There are more people going out for runs in the morning than there are going out for a morning cigarette.

“You are a product of your environment for sure. Look at these like health and wellness Instagram pages and everything… It’s quite cool to be healthy now.”

The rising cost of smoking will have had an impact on habits. Tax increases in 2021 meant a 20-a-day smoker in the UK spends up to £13.60 daily on cigarettes. This means regular smokers could save up to £5,000 a year by quitting.

John Driscoll, 37, stopped smoking three years ago. 

"It is saving me £110 a week," he said. "£110 a week over three years – that’s over £17,000.

“With the support of my colleagues I switched to vaping. I now spend around £25 every two months or so. I feel so much healthier.”

Vaping has grown in popularity as way to get off cigarettes

Vaping has grown in popularity as way to get off cigarettes - Credit: PA

Speaking on behalf of Stop Smoking London, a collaboration between London boroughs, Dr Somen Banerjee, co-chair and smoking cessation lead of the London Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said: “Smoking is our biggest preventable killer, taking more lives than covid last year and depriving people of many years of good health.

“But these figures are a reminder of the damage smoking also does to our communities. This is why councils in London have come together to tackle smoking in the Capital. Smokers in London should search ‘stop smoking London’ to find out more about support to stop. You are three times as likely to quit successfully with the support of your local stop smoking service than if you try to stop smoking on your own."

The Department of Health and Social Care is looking into introducing new laws around tobacco, and a spokesperson said: “We want England to be Smokefree by 2030 and we are addressing the damaging health implications of smoking right across the country, especially where rates remain high.

“Our new Tobacco Control Plan, to be published later this year, will set out how we will deliver on this challenging ambition.”