Smoking-related health issues result in 75,000 GP appointments per month and one hospitalisation every minute, according to new analysis by Cancer Research UK.
The charity warned that if current trends continue, smoking could cause around one million cancer cases in the UK by 2040.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, urged chancellor Jeremy Hunt to use the forthcoming spring budget next week to introduce tobacco controls to ease pressure on the health system.
‘The chancellor has the chance to reduce the number of people suffering with and dying from smoking-related cancers, grow the economy, and best use NHS resources in England,’ she said.
Measures recommended by the charity include a consultation on raising the age of sale for tobacco, more funding to help smokers quit and the introduction of a ‘polluter pays’ charge on the tobacco industry.
‘Jeremy Hunt must grasp this opportunity to be bold with tobacco control and establish a smoke-free fund to pay for these measures – and if required, make the tobacco industry, not the taxpayer, pay for the harm it causes to our nation’s health, and our health service,’ Ms Mitchell said.
Cancer Research UK believes there is public support for its suggested measures; the charity pointed to a recent YouGov poll that found 70% of people surveyed in England supported the Government investing more money to help England to become smoke-free, with 83% of those preferring for the money to come from making the tobacco industry pay.
The need for urgent action is further supported by data from Cancer Research UK’s September 2022 Cancer Awareness Measure survey, the charity said. According to the research, one in five (21%) of people with a ‘red flag’ potential cancer symptom who tried to contact their GP in the prior six months weren’t able to make an appointment or could not get through or get a response from the GP.
Dr Neil Smith, Cancer Research UK GP, said: ‘GP appointments play a key role in patients’ route to cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as a source of ongoing care for cancer survivors. With growing numbers of people in the UK expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the coming years, the figures highlight the impact that preventing ill health through bold tobacco control could have on reducing NHS pressures.
However, Dr Smith added that simply telling people to stop smoking was not enough, and funding should be made available to deal with the problem. ‘The tobacco industry must be made to pay for this as well as for the measures needed to stop people taking up smoking in the first place,’ he said.
Cancer Research UK quoted research from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) showing that the estimated gross cost of smoking to public finances in 2022 was £20.6 billion in the UK, in contrast with £10.3 billion collected in taxes on tobacco in 2021/22.