Tobacco control and smoking


Content last reviewed: 8 April 2016

Smoking is still the single largest preventable cause of premature mortality in the UK and Central Bedfordshire, resulting in more deaths than the next five causes combined (obesity, alcohol, road traffic accidents, illegal drugs and HIV infection (1). Around half of all lifelong smokers will die prematurely, losing an average of ten years of life.

Smoking has been identified as the biggest single cause of inequalities in death rates between rich and poor in the UK.  A uniquely dangerous product, used as intended by the manufacturers it kills half of life long users, causes over 80,000 deaths each year and accounts for over half of the difference in risk of premature death between social classes.  For every smoking-related death, twenty people are suffering a smoking related disease (2). There is no safe level of smoking, and cigars and rolling tobacco are as harmful as manufactured cigarettes.

Nicotine inhaled from smoking tobacco is highly addictive but it is primarily the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke, not the nicotine, that cause illness and death.  Nicotine addiction keeps tobacco users physically dependent, however, there is a complex combination of factors which cause and sustain regular use and this usually begins in childhood and adolescence.

The risk of disease is closely related to continued smoking and the cumulative number of packs smoked; the effects of which impact more seriously on heavier and more addicted smokers.  Stopping smoking has both immediate and long term benefits, but for people who continue to smoke after the age of 30, on average three months of life is lost for every year of continued smoking (3). Social and behavioural factors maintain dependence on tobacco and encourage young people to take up smoking.  The reshaping of social norms, making smoking less desirable, less attractive, less accessible and less affordable is vital to reduce the inter-generational effects of tobacco use which make smoking levels higher in some families and communities.  Effective tobacco control measures, including helping people to stop smoking, save more than they cost. 

Last updated Friday, 22nd April 2016