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Study: What could happen if smoking was banned completely

People who have never touched a cigarette live on average 6.3 years longer in good health.

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By Tom Campbell via SWNS

Banning smoking completely would not see any benefit to life expectancy for 40 years, a new UK study claims.

Bolder policies are needed to prevent people from cutting their lives short with cigarettes, especially in poorer areas.

In the U.S., people living below the poverty level and people having lower levels of educational attainment have higher rates of cigarette smoking than the general population.

beautiful girl brokeing cigarette.young woman quit smoking.
Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases. (Perfect Angle Images/Shutterstock)

People living in the healthiest parts of the UK get up to 15 more 'good years' compared to those in the least healthy areas.

Blackpool, Kingston upon Hull, Barking and Dagenham have the highest prevalence of smoking according to the British Office for National Statistics.

In contrast, affluent Richmond upon Thames and Windsor have the lowest number of smokers.

Smoking has been linked to around 92,000 deaths every year from illnesses like cancer and heart and respiratory diseases in GB. Cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

People who have never touched a cigarette live on average 6.3 years longer in good health than smokers.

This has led many people to support banning the addictive habit altogether.

This is a smoke free building sign on a wire security fence.
Seven states in the USA still do not have any legally enforced smoking restrictions. (Toasted Pictures/Shutterstock)

Now researchers have found the full health benefits of completely cutting out smoking would not come through for another 40 years.

Author Professor Les Mayhew at Bayes Business School in London said: "The challenges involved in improving healthy life expectancy include the interconnected risk factors associated with smoking, such as tackling mental illness, drug abuse, obesity, poor housing, and deprivation among others.

"It means that while tackling smoking head-on is a welcome and necessary step, it is only the beginning of a much bigger journey towards leveling up."

While life expectancy has been increasing in the UK since the start of the century, people are also spending more time in ill health.

Since 2001, it has increased by more unhealthy than healthy years, driven partly by the country's aging population and improvements in end-of-life care, but also poor health choices like smoking.

Banning smoking altogether would only improve people's healthy life expectancy by 2.5 years and it would take around 40 years to see the full benefits, the researchers found.

Young people are also in the firing line, with smokers in their mid-30s (34) being in the same health on average as 40-year-olds who have never taken a puff.

People living in poorer areas were more likely to have their healthy years cut short by smoking, the researchers also found.

Prof Mayhew said: "With differences of up to 15 years in health expectancy between the healthiest and least healthy areas, the scope to level up is definitely there – the policies just need to be much bolder in order to succeed.”

The findings come ahead of a government white paper on health disparities and the 2017-2022 Tobacco Control Plan which aims to make England ‘ smoke-free’ by 2030.

It suggests the government’s target of leveling up healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 is unachievable unless much bolder policies are adopted.

While the number of smokers in the UK has continued to decrease, around 6.9 million adults light up on a regular basis.

Cigarettes have also been found to be hugely damaging for the economy, as smokers are less productive, the researchers say.

If current or ex-smokers had never smoked, overall earnings could be 1.9 per cent higher, boosting the UK economy by £19.1 billion every year.

Prof Mayhew said: "There is no silver bullet in untangling the web of how to solve this problem."

The findings will be presented during a webinar hosted by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) on 14 June 2022.

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