John Griffiths reports on new research on the economic impact of smoking on the Welsh economy
Smoking is the greatest single cause of avoidable death in Wales. It continues to kill more than 5,000 people a year and tempts the equivalent of a classroom of Welsh children to take their first puff every day. But as well as our health, it’s also costing our economy.
A new report published today by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Wales reveals that smoking is costing Wales £790.66m a year, putting increasing pressure on businesses and the NHS. Of that, £302 million is spent on healthcare as a result of smoking-related illness and £288 million is lost to productivity through premature deaths. Welsh companies are also taking a hit from the £49.5 million lost through excess sickness absence as well as £41 million through smoking breaks.
Add to that the £25.8m spent each year clearing up smoking-related litter in our communities and it’s a devastating burden our fragile economy can ill afford.
Significantly the figures also show the cost of smoking to the Welsh economy is now £145m more than the amount tobacco generates in tax.
Evidence shows that the vast majority of adult smokers in Wales want to stop but the gap between the desire to quit and actually doing so remains stubbornly large, with smoking rates remaining stagnant at 23%.
To achieve the Welsh Government’s aim of reducing smoking prevalence to 16% by 2020 we need significantly more investment in quit smoking support to make services more accessible. We need to provide more cessation services in the community, particularly in deprived and rural areas and support needs to be more widely available where people are likely to engage in them, such as workplaces, pubs and clubs, job centres, libraries, community centres and mobile quit smoking units.
However interventions and quit campaigns need to be part of a comprehensive package of measures that also discourages young people from ever starting to smoke.
The long term solution is to prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers.
Further legislation is needed to restrict smoking in public areas especially where children are most likely to be found such as play areas, beaches and outside the school gates.
We must also ban the glossy packaging produced by tobacco manufacturers that makes cigarettes look like fashion accessories. A product that will prematurely kill half of all its long term users should not be contained in packaging that looks like perfume, lipstick or lego. While the Westminster Government drags its heels on introducing standard packs for tobacco, Scotland plans to legislate next year and Wales must do the same.
Legislating for a ban on smoking in cars carrying children will protect young people from the harm of passive smoke as well as de-normalise smoking as an everyday activity. Evidence shows that children are more likely to take up smoking themselves if they see family members and people around them smoking. Other nations are already taking the step to ban smoking in cars and with 83% of adults in support of the move in Wales, we too must show that we are committed to tackling the underlying contributors to our 23% smoking rate.
We at ASH Wales are working with local authorities across Wales to implement bans on smoking in playgrounds with many councils committing to extend their smokefree policies around their schools, leisure centres and sports grounds.
We believe we can create a healthier society provided we are willing to take the bold steps necessary steps in terms of legislation, education and helping people to quit. Wales after all was the first UK nation to call for a ban on smoking in enclosed public premises.
But we need to do more, and with the prospect of an overarching Public Health Bill for Wales, now is surely the opportunity to address some of the bigger social challenges that threaten our health and our economy such as tobacco marketing and smoking behaviour around children.
Smoking is an addiction that starts in childhood – we must protect future generations by giving them fewer reasons to start and an economy that is free from the burden of tobacco.