The number of people who smoke combustible cigarettes in the UK is at an all time low, according to the Office for National Statistics, but an estimated 6.6 million people in the UK still smoke combustible cigarettes, and the social and economic impacts are still quite substantial.
How Much Does Smoking Costs Society in the UK?
The cost of smoking to the UK government is approximately £12.6 billion annually. Of that amount, £1.4 billion goes to social care, the cost of smoking to the NHS is £2.5 billion and lost productivity in businesses accounts for £8.6 billion.
Of course, the cost of smoking combustible cigarettes doesn’t just cost the UK government; the smokers themselves spend a lot as well. UK-based Health Management Ltd claims that the average price of a pack of 20 combustible cigarettes was £11.46 in 2021, and smokers who smoke a pack per day pay more than £4,100 annually.
In addition to cost of combustible cigarettes, smokers in the UK are 33% more likely to miss work than their non-smoking colleagues, according to the University of Nottingham. The university estimates that these missed days cost employers around £1.4 billion annually.
The Human Cost of Combustible Cigarettes in the UK
In addition to the the economic impact of smoking in the UK, smoking combustible cigarettes is one of the leading causes of the UK’s preventable deaths. Every year, smoking kills 76,000 people in the UK and leaves many more suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Health Risks of Combustible Cigarettes
The NHS claims that smoking combustible cigarettes puts people at risk for more than 50 serious health conditions:
In addition to causing seven out of every 10 cases of lung cancer, smoking combustible cigarettes can cause cancer in many other parts of the body, including:
Smoking combustible cigarettes also accounts for 84% of lung cancer deaths and 83% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
People who smoke combustible cigarettes are twice as likely to have a heart attack. Additionally, smokers of combustible cigarettes are, according to the NHS, at an increased risk of:
- Coronary heart disease
- Peripheral vascular disease (damage to blood vessels)
- Cerebrovascular disease (damage to arteries responsible for blood flow to the brain)
Smoking combustible cigarettes also raises blood pressure and heart rate and increases the risk of stroke by at least 50%.
Smoking combustible cigarettes doesn’t just harm the smoker. The Royal College of Physicians states that secondhand smoke (SHS) substantially increases the risk of wheeze, asthma and middle-ear infection in children.
Smoking combustible cigarettes can also have negative consequences on reproductive health. In men, smoking combustible cigarettes can lead to erectile dysfunction, which is because it restricts blood supply to the penis. Smoking combustible cigarettes can also contribute to male infertility.
Female smokers of combustible cigarettes are far more likely to run reproductive and pregnancy risks. Among these, the most common are low birth weight, premature birth and even infertility issues. According to Yorkshire Smokefree Service, some of the toxins found in combustible cigarettes do serious damage to the ovaries, the female glands responsible for producing eggs.
Aside from lung cancer, smoking traditional, combustible cigarettes leads to COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Over time, according to the British United Provident Association (BUPA), smoking combustible cigarettes causes lung inflammation, and every year people smoke combustible cigarettes after the age of 40 years decreases their life expectancy by approximately 90 days.
The Great Vape Debate
While abstinence remains the best defence against the risks posed by tobacco use, not everyone is willing or even able to give up tobacco entirely. Because of the intense media coverage surrounding e-cigarettes and vaping, anti-tobacco groups vigorously went after e-cigarette and vape products as being just as harmful as traditional, combustible cigarettes, but is that really the truth?
E-cigarettes and Vape vs. Traditional, Combustible Cigarettes
Despite the negative press and despite the anti-smoking lobby’s assertions, there is a lot of evidence that suggests e-cigarette and vaping products are, in fact, less harmful than combustible cigarettes.
Cancer Research UK has stated that e-cigarettes and vaping products do not:
- Contain tobacco, the ingredient responsible for causing cancers
- Contain most of the cancer-causing chemicals found in traditional, combustible cigarettes
- Cause cancer in and of themselves
- Seem to pose any passive risks
Cancer research UK also states that e-cigarettes are far less harmful that smoking combustible cigarettes and a good option for helping people quit smoking combustible cigarettes.
There is no question that the consumption of nicotine products is harmful and should be avoided. Nonetheless, the research so far indicates that e-cigarettes and vape products are, indeed, a safer alternative to conventional smoking. Choosing to consume nicotine products is, obviously, a personal choice, but as far as modern research is concerned, e-cigarette and vaping products are, in fact, the lesser of two evils.