27th February 2017

New report exposes ‘systematic failure’ to protect most vulnerable young people from smoking

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A report published today reveals how the government’s failure to deliver its promised strategy for preventing smoking among young people – particularly the most vulnerable – is creating a potential health ‘time-bomb’ which could impact the NHS for decades to come.

The report, ‘New issues and age-old challenges: a review of young people’s relationship with tobacco’, lays bare how sustained cuts to public health budgets have left the NHS and local authorities without the resources to sustain existing services or adapt to changing conditions. 

Smoking tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and ill-health in the UK. [9,10]

207,000 young people under 15 start smoking every year in the UK [1]; 99,000 people will die this year from smoking-related illness [11]; 85% of lung cancer diagnoses are related to smoking [2]. All this costs the NHS an estimated £5.2billion per year. In England alone, smoking costs society as a whole £13.9 billion. [13]

Commissioned by Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, the report states: “This staggering cost places an unsustainable strain on an already crippled NHS, which needs to be tackled immediately”.  It adds that, without investment, recent benefits gained from tobacco control policies would be undermined, resulting in escalating healthcare costs.

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, is urged to produce the government’s new tobacco strategy which was due in 2016 “without further delay”. It has not been renewed since 2010.

Today’s report reveals the new challenges facing public health and cancer prevention, including:

Smoking entrenched among the most deprived and hardest to reach elements of society Mental health issues: depression in adolescence linked to smoking in adulthood Tobacco industry evading advertising restrictions by promoting cigarettes in films, videos, gaming and social media – fostering a ‘cool’ image of smoking Proliferation of different forms of tobacco consumption including increased use of cannabis and shisha or water-pipes Cheap illicit tobacco – bought more by young people than adults Teenage pregnancy – younger mothers, women in disadvantaged circumstances and those who have never worked are more likely to smoke while pregnant Higher than average smoking rates among the LGBT community and among young offenders

A survey of 143 stakeholders from across public health, research and third sector organisations forms part of the report; 73% of respondents believe public health teams do not have sufficient funding to support young people to avoid smoking.

Paula Chadwick, Chief Executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, acknowledges that there has been a reduction in the OVERALL level of smoking among young people in recent years, but believes that too often current smoking prevention measures fail to reach those most at risk.

She said, “We cannot be complacent, as we see health promotion services struggling, no longer offering nationwide support for those who regret their teenage habits.

“It is easy to assume that, as a society, we are winning the battle to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking. But the bitter truth is that we are failing to reach those young people most at risk. Clearly, current smoking prevention measures among the young aren’t succeeding.” 

To address this, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation works to prevent young people from taking up the habit via its Cut Films project. This enables young people to make films aimed at helping their peers to say ‘no’ to smoking.

Paula Chadwick explained, “Cut Films is a way of reaching out and engaging with young people, often in neglected or under-represented communities. But we can’t do this in a vacuum; the public health structure must be in place, and those structures just aren’t there. The system is broken and failing our most vulnerable young people.

“So we are calling for Jeremy Hunt to issue and implement a strategy for smoking prevention that is fit for purpose and addresses the issues we highlight in this report the systematic failures to protect young people from ALL sectors of our society.”

“Without it, we risk an explosion in demands on our health services in ten, twenty and thirty years from now. Smoking is a health time-bomb, and when it goes off, we can’t expect charities to pick up the pieces”. 

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation has campaigned tirelessly to effect changes to support tobacco control, such as the 2007 ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces and public places, the 2011 ban on selling cigarettes from vending machines and the 2015 law banning smoking in vehicles carrying children. It is the only UK charity dedicated solely to lung cancer issues.

Professor Linda Bauld, Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, commented, “Stop smoking services need to be protected and we need mass media campaigns.”

As today’s report states unequivocally: “We need a broad and ambitious agenda setting out our aspirations. Without this, the UK will see an unravelling of the vital progress made to challenge the smoking epidemic in the past century. This is a pivotal time and action must be swift.”

Concluded Paula Chadwick, “Public health budgets in local authorities are facing unprecedented cuts, which deepen entrenched divisions within our society. We need early intervention; we need to be bold to reach all sectors of society, and we need to be cost-effective. Our report shows that now is the time for Mr Hunt to take action.”  


1. Nicholas S Hopkinson et al, Child uptake of smoking by area across the UK, Thorax,

 25 November 2013. Available online: http://thorax.bmj.com/content/69/9/873

2. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cancer-of-the-lung/Pages/Causes.aspx

(Note – the following reference numbers within this press release accord with those within the report itself)

9 – Pirie, K et al, The 21st century hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping: a prospective study of one million women in the UK, The Lancet, October 2012. Available online: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61720-6/abstract

10 – Health and Social Care Information Centre, Statistics on Smoking: England 2015, May 2015. Available online:  http://content.digital.nhs.uk/article/2021/Website-Search?productid=17945&q=statistics+on+smoking%3aengland+2015&sort=Relevance&size=10&page=1&area=both#top

11 – Health and Social Care Information Centre, Statistics on Smoking: England 2015, May 2015. Available online:  http://content.digital.nhs.uk/article/2021/Website-Search?productid=17945&q=statistics+on+smoking%3aengland+2015&sort=Relevance&size=10&page=1&area=both#top

13 – Action on Smoking and Health, Vision of a smokefree future. Available online: http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/7680112/P5.2+Smokefree+Future+-+Hazel+Cheeseman+ASH/7ffb2d6d-e2a0-46be-95d6-820be6e334cc

For more information, contact Rachel Avery, Head of Marketing & Communications:  rachel.avery@roycastle.org / 0333 323 7200 ext. 9191