While the number of smokers has been declining, one in six adults – or 16.9 per cent of the population – still smokes, according to Public Health England figures released last year.
Health experts put it down to increasing use of e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and gum to help people give up cigarettes.
In 2015, 500,000 smokers quit for good – the highest number on record.
But a new study reveals just how much those who still smoke are costing our stretched health service.
According to new research by the UK Health Forum, and commissioned by Cancer Research UK, cutting smoking rates could provide the NHS an extra £67million a year.
They found this saving was achievable if rates dropped to below five per cent in the UK by 2035.
The researchers predict this target could help avoid almost 100,000 new instances of smoking-related diseases – including 35,900 cancers over the next two decades.
As well as the benefits to the NHS, the impact of this improvement to health in the population could also save the economy £548million in additional costs in the year 2035 alone.
The majority of smokers in the UK are from some of the country’s most deprived groups.
However, if the current downward trend continues, then only 15 per cent of this group are predicted to still be smoking in 2035, and just 2.5 per cent of people from the wealthiest demographic.
Professor Paul Lincoln, UK Health Forum chief executive, said: “This study highlights the huge burden that smoking places on our society, particularly on the poorest and least advantaged groups.
“Unless we reduce the demand on the NHS from preventable causes of disease like smoking, it will be difficult to continue to provide sustainable healthcare for everyone who needs it.
“We hope that by showing the clear benefits of this tobacco free ambition, we can inform tobacco control policy in the UK and even worldwide.”
Progress so far in tackling smoking has been attributed to the introduction of smoke-free workplaces, and legislation to bring in plain, standardised packaging.
However, Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum still believe more could be done to prevent more devastation of lives for immediate generations.
They are calling on the new government after the General Election to bring in a revised ‘tobacco control strategy’.
It should set out a fresh ten-year plan for tackling the harm caused by smoking, and how the NHS can be better supported.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “Bold and ambitious targets are needed to save the thousands of lives and millions of pounds of NHS money lost to tobacco.
“We want the next Government to share our ambition for the next generation of children to grow up ‘tobacco-free’. This target should be at the heart of a new strategy to tackle smoking.
“Measures like sustained funding for Stop Smoking Services, mass media campaigns and increased tax on tobacco all have the potential to help smokers to stop, and create much-needed revenue to support programmes that will reduce the burden on our health service.”
People looking to stop smoking could reduce cracing and withdrawal symptoms with new formulation Niquitin Lozenges, which help to relieve cravings. Experts say the NiQuitin 2mg Lozenges are suitable for smokers who have their first cigarette of the day more than 30 minutes after waking up, and the 4mg variety are suitable for smokers who have their first cigarette less than 30 minutes after waking up.
To find out more visit www.niquitin.co.uk.