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Harms of smoking

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable ill-health and premature death in London and the UK and has a significant impact on health and social care costs.

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body.

It causes lung cancer, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease, as well as many cancers in other organs including lip, mouth, throat, bladder, kidney, stomach, liver and cervix. Smoking reduces fertility and significantly raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, eye disease and dementia. It leads to decreased bone mineral density and is associated with increased risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, back pain and degenerative disc disease.

Secondhand smoke is dangerous for anyone exposed to it, but children are especially vulnerable due to breathing more rapidly and having less developed airways, lungs and immune systems.

Smoking is also harmful to mental health and wellbeing, with national data showing that smokers score worse than the population as a whole on every mental wellbeing indicator.

Smoking is the single most important modifiable risk factor in pregnancy. Smoking is associated with a range of poor pregnancy outcomes including miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, neonatal complications, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome.

See: Stop smoking in pregnancy – NHS (

Smoking-related hospital admissions and primary care treatments cost £242.3m yearly, while it costs local authorities in London £125.7m each year on care for smoking-related illnesses in later life [ASH Ready Reckoner].

Productivity losses, including smoking-related ill-health and loss of earnings, total £2.6bn annually [ASH. The cost of smoking to the social care system, 2021, March 2021].

Despite falling rates of smoking over the past decade, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in an increase in smoking among young adults. The number of 18- to 34-year-olds who smoke increased by 25% in England during the first lockdown, according to a study led by UCL researchers, funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

On average, smoking reduces life expectancy by 10 years. After the age of 40, each additional year reduces smokers’ life expectancy by another three months [Bupa: Effects of smoking].

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) estimate that tobacco causes more than 4,300 cancer deaths each year in the capital, representing more than a quarter (27 per cent) of total fatalities from the disease. At least 6,000 avoidable deaths a year are caused by smoking.

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