Smoking-related poverty concentrated in the North and Midlands

23rd July 2021

New analysis [1] of national data commissioned by health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds that 3 in 5 of all households containing smokers living in poverty live in the North and Midlands while fewer than 1 in 5 are in London and the South East. The link between smoking and disadvantage is well established, but this new analysis throws light on how the impact of smoking on local communities is exacerbated when household incomes are also lower.

Research was undertaken using national Government data on household.[2] Nationally one in five (21%) of smoking households in the UK were living below the poverty line, amounting to a million households. However, when tobacco expenditure was included in the assessment of poverty this increased to nearly a third (32%) equivalent to 1.5 million households.

But the impact was not evenly spread around the country. Smokers in the North and Midlands were more likely to be in poverty than those in London and the South East. For example, 42% of smoking households in the North East were below the poverty line when their tobacco expenditure was taken into account compared to 17% in London.  Taken together the North and Midlands had 730,000 smoking households living in poverty compared to 215,000 in London and the South East [3: Full data for all regions of UK in Notes].

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health said:

“Smokers are more likely to be below the poverty line wherever they live but for those in parts of the country where incomes are lower smoking has a much bigger impact. This disparity must be taken into account by Government in the development of future strategies to improve public health and level up society.”

The analysis also assessed the extent to which smoking related poverty was distributed between households with and without employment. While those households without any earners were over-represented half the smoking households in poverty had at least 1 earning member showing the contribution smoking is making to in-work poverty.

The 1.5 million smoking households in poverty once tobacco was taken into account included:

  • 2 million working age adults
  • 400,000 pensioners
  • 1 million children

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health said:

“Securing the Government’s vision of a smokefree England by 2030 will have a profound impact on the wealth and wellbeing of poorer families, and reinforce broader economic strategies to build back better after COVID-19.”


Notes to the Editor

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

ASH staff are available for interview. For more information send an email to or ring Hazel Cheeseman (Deputy Chief Executive, ASH) on 07754 358 593.



[1] Howard Reed, Landman Economics. Estimates of poverty in the UK adjusted for expenditure on tobacco – 2021 update. July 2021.

[2] Methodology: The analysis uses the Government’s national Family Resources Survey and Living Costs and Food Survey to assess household income and expenditure including he pending on tobacco. This was then bought together to make an assessment of the households who smoke and are below the Government defined poverty line.

[3] Percentage and number of households in poverty by region – households with positive tobacco expenditure only

  England Wales Scot NI
Proportion of households in poverty (%)
Before tobacco expenditure 32.3 26.1 21.8 22.4 27.6 17.6 9.7 12.0 19.6 18.9 29.1 23.8
After tobacco expenditure 42.4 38.5 34.6 31.7 37.7 25.6 16.7 25.8 30.3 31.4 43.0 38.9
Number of households in poverty (1000s)
Before tobacco expenditure 85 141 93 81 107 71 48 62 71 50 144 42
After tobacco expenditure 112 208 148 115 146 103 82 133 110 83 213 68