Smoking estimated to cost NHS Ј5bn a year

In collaboration with the Press Association

UK researchers have revealed that the direct cost to the NHS of smoking is likely to be more than five times greater than previous estimates.

Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Public Health now calculate that the true cost was over £5.2 billion for 2005/06 - and this figure does not even include the cost of passive smoking, indirect costs such as lost productivity and informal care, or the full range of conditions that are linked to smoking.

Even without these additional costs, which the researchers say would increase their estimate "considerably", smoking-related treatment consumed 5.5 per cent of the total NHS budget for 2005/06.

The study, which is published in the journal Tobacco Control, drew on three sources of reliable data - previously published research from between 1997 and 2007; information from the World Health Organisation's Global Burden of Disease Project; and routine monthly data on UK deaths attributable to smoking.

Researchers estimate that around 109,164 people died as a direct result of smoking in 2005.

This means that almost one in five deaths were due to smoking, including 27.2 per cent of deaths among men and 10.5 per cent among women.

According to the researchers, this suggests "that the overall numbers of deaths attributable to smoking have not changed much in the past ten years".

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, commented: "There's no doubt about the huge financial cost of smoking, but this shouldn't distract from the tragic human cost.

"Half of all long-term smokers will die from this addiction so it's vital we continue working to reduce the impact that tobacco has on the lives of so many people.

"Putting tobacco products out of sight at the point of sale, removing cigarette vending machines and making plain packaging compulsory for tobacco products are just three of the measures we would like introduced to help protect people from tobacco."

Betty McBride, policy and communications director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said: "We are now spending over billion a year dealing with the health consequences of smoking.

"This is money being drained out of the NHS as a direct result of something we have the power to prevent."

References

Allender, S., Balakrishnan, R., Scarborough, P., Webster, P., & Rayner, M. (2009). The burden of smoking related ill health in the UK Tobacco Control DOI: 10.1136/tc.2008.026294