Every day in England 280 children start smoking while Government action on its Smokefree 2030 pledge is awaited

3 February 2020

The clock is ticking – every day in England 280 children start smoking and over 200 adults die from smoking while Government action on its Smokefree 2030 pledge is awaited

  • Ex-smoker and cancer survivor Sue calls on Government to make the tobacco manufacturers pay to end the smoking epidemic

280 children a day in England start smoking [1] and over 200 people a day die from smoking. [2] Those are the stark figures published today as a former smoker and cancer survivor joins health leaders in calling on the Government to deliver on its ambition to be smokefree by 2030.[3] Today the campaign for a Smokefree 2030 is being launched with publication of a Roadmap setting out what the Government needs to do to deliver on its ambition. Top of the list is legislation to require the tobacco manufacturers to finance a Smokefree 2030 Fund, to pay for the measures needed to end smoking.[4]

Since the Government first announced its ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030 in July last year,[5] over 50,000 children under 16 have started smoking in England.[1] That’s enough to fill a football stadium, and another 280 join them every day. Two thirds of young people who experiment with smoking go on to become daily smokers. [6]

Ex-smoker Sue Mountain, from South Tyneside, underwent laser treatment in 2012 after a biopsy revealed she had laryngeal cancer.  The cancer returned in 2017 which required radiotherapy every day for four weeks.

She said: “I started smoking when I was eleven to fit in – as a kid you don’t realise how addictive it is. I was addicted. I needed that nicotine craving. When I look back at what I have spent on cigarettes, it must have been £50,000 at least. It could have bought me half a house, instead of cancer.”

She added: “I’m delighted the government has set an ambition for a smokefree generation by 2030. But it needs to happen, words are not enough if we are to prevent future generations ending up like me. And I am one of the lucky ones, I’ve survived.” 

She added: “It is a scandal that the tobacco companies are the ones making huge profits and at the same time are trying to get young people around the world hooked. It is time that the UK government made them pay to end the smoking epidemic, like the polluter they are.”

Sue’s call to action is shared by leading health organisations, including Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Cancer Research UK and Fresh who are launching the campaign for a Smokefree 2030 today. [4]

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said,

“We’re right behind the Government with its Smokefree 2030 ambition, but where’s the strategy to back it up?  England will only be smokefree by 2030 if we’re much tougher in how we regulate tobacco, including making the industry pay for the damage it does. There’s no time to lose, the clock is ticking, with less than ten years to go.”

Alison Cox, Director of Cancer Prevention at CRUK, said,

“Our analysis shows that 280 children – enough to fill 20 school minibuses – start smoking in England every day. Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer and kills tens of thousands of people every year. To stop children taking up smoking, and to prevent smoking related illnesses and deaths, more needs to be done to help their parents quit, as children growing up in smoking households are nearly twice as likely to become smokers themselves. The government must act now if England is to become smokefree by 2030.”

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said:

“Like leopards, tobacco companies don’t change their spots. They exist to profit from an addiction which not only kills smokers prematurely but also robs them of years of healthy life, and is a major driver of poverty damaging families, communities and local economies. Here in the North East we have had the biggest falls in smoking in the country, but even so it remains our largest cause of preventable death. There is a point when we have to say enough is enough, it’s time for the industry to be made to pay for the damage it does.”

Cabinet office guidelines say that on January 6th, twelve weeks after the consultation closed, the Government should have published the next steps, or explained why not. It has yet to do so. [7] Meanwhile over 77,000 people a year die prematurely from smoking in England,[2] with thirty times as many suffering from serious, smoking-related diseases including cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).[8]

RCP Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians, which supports the Smokefree 2030 campaign said,

“Every week in my hospital clinic I see patients whose diseases have either been caused by smoking, or made worse by smoking. We can’t wait until smokers get sick to give them the help they need to quit. All smokers should have access to the support and medication they need to ensure they have the best possible chance of quitting. Limited public health funding means that these services are no longer being provided in nearly a third of local authorities.”

Professor Linda Bauld, Director of the SPECTRUM research consortium, another endorsing organisation said,

“We know what works to address smoking but it requires funding and tougher regulation of tobacco companies. There are new policies we know will help, like increasing the age of sale to 21, putting warnings not just on the packs but on cigarettes too, and requiring cigarette companies to put independent advice on stopping smoking inside the packs. But just as important is reinstating funding for the tried and tested policies, like public education campaigns which have been so successful in discouraging youth uptake and motivating adult smokers to try to stop, backed up by specialist support which can increase their chances of success.”


Notes to the editor:

Media Contact

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information send an email to press@ash.org.uk or ring 020 7404 0242.

Out of hours contact Deborah Arnott (Chief Executive, ASH) on 07976 935 987.

About Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

About Cancer Research UK (CRUK)

Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent cancer research charity, conducting research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Cancer Research UK has over 40,000 volunteers, and campaigns for evidence-based policy implementation.

About Fresh

Fresh was the UK’s first dedicated regional tobacco control programme, set up in the North East in 2005 to tackle the worst rates of smoking-related illness and death in the country. Since then the North East has seen the largest fall in smoking in England. Currently 16% of North East adults are regular smokers.

About the Royal College of Physicians (RCP)

The RCP represents 37,000 doctors worldwide.  The RCP’s core mission is to drive improvements in health and healthcare through advocacy, education and research. The RCP has campaigned actively on tobacco policy since its seminal first report, Smoking and Health, in 1962.


SPECTRUM is a 10 University, multi-agency research consortium conducting research on the commercial determinants of health in relation to tobacco, alcohol and food. SPECTRUM is supported by the UK Prevention Research Partnership an initiative funded by UK Research and Innovation Councils, the Department of Health and Social Care (England) and the UK devolved administrations, and leading health research charities. www.spectrum.ac.uk

[1] Methodology: Calculated by the Cancer Intelligence Team at Cancer Research UK, January 2020. Estimated number of new child smokers in England each day on average between 2019 and 2021. Calculated using Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use in Young People in England survey data. For 2014-18, percentage of new smokers (‘regular’, ‘occasional’, or ‘used to smoke’) each year was calculated for age 12, 13, 14 and 15; for example the percentage of smokers aged 12 in 2017 was subtracted from the percentage of smokers aged 13 in 2018. For age 11 all smokers were considered new smokers. 2015 and 2017 figures were estimated (average of surrounding years) as no surveys were carried out in those years. Percentage of new smokers in England was applied to England population estimates to obtain the number of new England smokers. The 2014-18 trend in estimated number of new child smokers in England each year was projected forward to obtain estimates for 2019-21. Yearly figures were divided by 365 to obtain daily figures.

[2] NHS Digital. Statistics on Smoking, England – 2019 [NS] [PAS]

[3] This has been defined as when smoking rates are 5% or less. (see Towards a Smokefree Generation. A Tobacco Control Plan for England).To be smokefree is to reach a tipping point when smoking is no longer normalised in society, and the end of smoking is in sight.

[4] For more information about the Smokefree 2030 campaign, including the Roadmap and the full list of endorsing organisations visit smokefreeaction.org.uk/smokefree2030

[5] Cabinet Office and DHSC. Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s – consultation document. July 2019.

[6] Birge M, Duffy S, Miler JA, Hajek P. What Proportion of People Who Try One Cigarette Become Daily Smokers? A Meta-Analysis of Representative Surveys. Nicotine Tob Res. November 2018. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntx243

[7] The consultation on Advancing our health:prevention in the 2020s closed on 14th October 2019. Cabinet Office. Consultation principles: guidance. March 2018.  “Government responses to consultations should be published in a timely fashion: Publish responses within 12 weeks of the consultation or provide an explanation why this is not possible.”

[8] US Centers for Disease Control. Smoking & Tobacco use: Fast facts. 2020