Future Health publishes pandemic impact report on smoking

As part of its public health and prevention series Future Health has published a new report ‘Make Smoking History’ which looks at the impact of the pandemic on smoking rates in England.

The report can be accessed here: Make Smoking History 170521

And a short video exploring the findings is available on our Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3s-_7Y3Qwk

It reveals the number of people smoking is set to be 600,000 higher in 2022 than previously forecast due to rises in unemployment and mental health impacts. The report was covered in The Telegraph, Sun and were accompanied by by an op-ed by Future Health Founder and Programme Director Richard Sloggett.




The research notes that the higher number of smokers will prevent the government from meeting one of its key public health targets.

The Department for Health and Social Care had, in 2019, published a Green Paper setting out plans to limit smoking to under 5% of the adult population in England by 2030. While the number of people smoking has been falling steadily over the past 40 years, new modelling published today by Future Health, a health policy research centre,  reveals that the impact of Covid-19 means it will be “virtually impossible” to meet that ambition without “drastic and immediate action”.

The model assumes smoking rates in the next twelve months will follow a similar pattern as those seen post the 2008 financial crisis, when a rise in unemployment led to a slowing in the number of people quitting smoking.

According to the projection, by 2030 the overall number of the adult population smoking would be 7.1%, well over the  government’s 5% target, which would now not be met until 2033.

The paper, ‘Make Smoking History: How to get back on track to eliminate smoking after the pandemic’, highlights both a regional and a demographic challenge that the government will need to overcome if it is to get back on track:

  • Despite a substantial reduction in smoking rates since the 1970s, the number of adults smoking in the UK is still nearly 7 million.
  • There is a major regional divide when it comes to smoking rates, with ONS figures revealing that of the highest 10 areas for smoking rates, only one area (Dartford), is classified as being in the South of England. By contrast of the areas in the bottom 10 for smoking rates, only one (Ribble Valley) is classified as being in the North of England; with seven in the south of England and two in the Midlands
    • Corby in Northamptonshire has the highest number of smokers in England (27.5%), followed by Dartford (26.4%) and Lincoln (24.85)
    • Hart in Hampshire and St Albans in Hertfordshire are the only two local authorities in England which have less than 5% of the adult population who are smokers.
  • The overall rate of young people smoking has increased. The Smoking Toolkit Data shows a sharp increase in 18-24 years who have ever This has jumped from 24.3% in 2019 to 31.8% in March 2021.
  • Young men are more prone to smoking than women. The latest Smoking Toolkit Data also indicates a rise in males smoking during the pandemic. 16.4% of men are smoking, which has increased from closer to 15% in 2019; whilst the rate for women remains static at 13.6%.

The report sets out three recommendations to help the government overcome the challenge:

  • Accelerating national action. The publication this summer of the Tobacco Control Plan must set out a trajectory to deliver on the government’s target including a new national awareness campaign to help people quit.
  • A pandemic health impact assessment. The Office of Health Promotion should undertake this exercise and use the results as a basis for plotting more targeted smoking interventions that tackle the pandemic impacts including: ensuring those who have quit smoking continue not to smoke; and those that smoke, particularly younger smokers who have started smoking, quit quickly.
  • Increasing the public health grant. At the next spending review, support local authorities in delivering against the government’s 5% target, especially those areas with particularly high rates of smoking. And include a metric on smoking rates as part of the planned ‘levelling up’ white paper


Richard Sloggett, Founder of Future Health, said:

Our model indicates that as a result of the pandemic there could be up to 600,000 additional smokers next year than originally forecast. This is due to wider population health impacts from the pandemic such as increased unemployment and mental health.

“Some areas of the country are currently four or five times above the stated 5% ambition level and such local variation presents a major barrier to delivering on the target. A major package  of national action needs to be introduced this year including local targeted support to get back on track to eliminating smoking in England. Doing so will be fundamental to levelling-up the health inequalities that have been so clearly exposed by the pandemic.”