How Smoking Burdens the Economy

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It’s clear that smoking doesn’t do any favours for our mental and physical health, not to mention the wellbeing of others around us. However, many people are not aware of the volume in which smoking affects the economy. 

According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), it’s estimated that smokers cost the economy an overwhelming £12.6 billion a year. This figure includes the direct cost blow to the NHS and social care services for treating smoking related diseases, as well as indirect business losses from hindered productivity and premature deaths. Destructive farming practices, environmental harm, and fire damage from disposed cigarettes are also deemed as indirect costs of smoking.

The proportion of smokers in the UK may be falling, but the unprecedented figure of 1.9 million smoking-related hospital admissions reported between 2019 and 2020 is news that shouldn’t be ignored. To fully comprehend the financial consequences that smoking has on society, let’s take a deeper look into each of the direct and indirect costs. 

Smoking-related House Fires Cost £329.7 Million in Damage a Year

Cigarettes may only seem small, but they have the potential for enormous damage in the home. Carelessly disposing of cigarettes or leaving cigarettes burning while left unattended can present a major fire risk in the home, and in some cases, fatalities can sadly occur. 

From 2017 to 2018, there were 30,813 domestic fire incidents recorded in England. In this same report, the Home Office revealed that materials used by smokers were among the top four leading causes of the recorded accidental house fires (8%) before faulty appliances and leads (15%) misuse of electrical equipment (34%), and cooking appliances (48%). 

Alongside causing serious injury and loss of life, smoking-related house fires cost £329.7 million a year in damage which could otherwise be reduced or completely prevented with the correct safety measures or quitting cigarettes altogether. 

Home Care Services Treating Smoking-Related Illnesses Costs £1.4 Billion Annually 

Smoking remains the number one risk factor for lung cancer, and drastically increases a person’s chances of developing over 50 serious health conditions, including heart disease and stroke. After decades or even just a couple of months or weeks of smoking cigarettes, a person will continue to increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with one or more of these illnesses.

Even those who no longer smoke are still at risk of developing a smoking-related illness later on in life; this is why it is so vital to quit as soon as possible. In England, the annual cost for local councils with home care services treating smoking-related illnesses is estimated to be around £1.4 billion. 

Smokers Devastate the NHS by £2.5 Billion Each Year

A large amount of the NHS budget is unsurprisingly taken up by smoking costs. This ranges from GP consultations and prescriptions to emergency care and long term support. As more and more people become influenced to take up cigarettes, crucial funds from the NHS will inevitably continue to go up in smoke. 

Despite staff members in the NHS working hard day after day, they are often taken for granted by many. So, to keep this fantastic service in place, it is necessary for action to be taken. Effective interventions such as stop smoking services are currently available to all, but a collective government and societal effort is needed to make smoking less accessible, less affordable, and less accepted by others in the future. 

For now, tackling the destructive effects of tobacco before it’s too late can be achieved by promoting the usage of e-cigarettes. While the effects of vaping are still being meticulously studied, we know that e-cigarettes are not the same as cigarettes. In 2015 and again in 2018, Public Health England confidently insisted that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. Even more promising to hear is a recent 2021 study from PHE which has revealed that vaping comes out on top in helping smokers quit when compared with nicotine replacement therapy. 

Productivity Loss from Smokers Affects the Economy by £8.4 Billion Every Year 

ASH states that almost half of all life-long smokers will die prematurely, and on average, non-smokers will live 10 years longer than cigarette users. Sadly, around 78,000 people die from smoking in England each year, while many other smokers are diagnosed with life-threatening, debilitating conditions which can prevent them from working. Unfortunately, once premature smoking deaths and unemployment caused by ill health starts to add up, unfortunately so do the financial consequences. 

As smokers are far more likely to fall ill and take long periods of sick-leave than healthy individuals, this can present complications for businesses in terms of wasted time and financial losses. One study estimated that smokers take nearly 3 extra sick days per year compared to their non-smoking employees, while older studies pointed towards a larger statistic of 8 extra days off work on average.

Sick days due to smoking-related ill health are not the only issue contributing to productivity losses, however. With the average smoker leaving their desk to take 4 10 minute smoking breaks a day, this can cause a disruption to workflow and a dip in concentration. Overtime, this may lead to uncompleted tasks and ultimately business losses.

This is where the innovation of e-cigs can fortunately come to the rescue. With no bound vaping laws in the workplace unless dictated by the business owner themselves, employees are able to use e-cigarettes in the office to satisfy their cravings while respecting those around them.