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Press Release

A third of smoking households in England are living in poverty with rates highest in the North

09 Feb 2022

Local breakdown and further regional and local data available

New analysis of national data commissioned by charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds that the proportion of smokers living in poverty is highest in the north and midlands.

The new breakdown [1] published today [Wednesday 9th February] shows that In England as a whole 31% of households containing smokers live in poverty once spend on smoking is taken into account. Rates are highest in the North East where 42% of households containing smokers live in poverty, while London is lowest at 17%, but this still equates to over 80,000 households in the capital.

The link between smoking and disadvantage is well established, but this new analysis highlights how the impact of smoking on local communities is compounded in regions where household incomes are also lower. The average gross disposable household income per head in the North East is only £17,096, while in London it is £30,256.[2]

Rate of poverty among smoking households

RegionRate of poverty among smoking householdsNumber of smoking households in poverty
North East42%112,000
North West38%208,000
West Midlands38%146,000
Yorkshire and The Humber25%148,000
East Midlands32%115,000
South West30%110,000
South East26%133,000
East of England26%103,000

Households where people smoke are poorer because of an addiction which usually started in childhood. Two thirds of adult smokers started before they reached 18,[3] and most of them go on to become regular adult smokers.[4] Smoking is highly addictive and on average it takes thirty attempts before a smoker successfully stops for good. [5] |People living with social and economic hardship tend to be more addicted, and find it harder to quit, although they try just as often.[6]

The findings also showed:

  • The average smoker is spending just under £2,000 a year on tobacco costing England smokers a total of £12 billion [7]
  • When net income and smoking expenditure is taken into account, 1.16m or 31% of households with a smoker fall below the poverty line. The residents of these houses include around 2.2 million adults below pension age, around 400,000 pension age adults and around 1 million dependent children. [8]
  • Smokers’ employment chances and average earnings are also damaged by smoking creating further hardship for people, especially those who have to give up working due to smoking-related ill health. In England 252,138 people are economically inactive due to smoking and smokers earn 8% less than non-smokers. [9]
  • Current smokers are 5 times more likely to require social care support at home and need care on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers [10], accounting for 8% of local authority spending on adult social care.

Public Health Minister Maggie Throup said:

“Smoking has a disproportionate impact on poorer communities across the country and we’re absolutely determined to hit our ambition for England to be smoke free by 2030.

“We have launched an independent review of our smoking policy, led by Javed Khan, and will publish a new plan later this year setting out how we will tackle health inequalities and level up the country.”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said:

“Smoking is the single largest driver of health inequalities in England and it is shocking that it’s contributing to more than two million adults living in poverty, concentrated in the most disadvantaged regions in the country.

“Behind every statistic is a human being. A real person, threatened by the debilitating health effects of smoking, and significantly poorer because of an addiction that started in childhood.

“We look forward to the forthcoming Tobacco Control Plan to achieve the Government’s smokefree 2030 ambition. This will play a key role in delivering the 2030 targets to narrow the gap in life expectancy, wellbeing and productivity between the top performing and other areas set out in the Levelling Up White Paper.”


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.


[1] ASH, Economic and Inequalities Dashboard, 2022

[2] ONS. Regional gross disposable household income, UK: 1997 to 2019. 14 October 2021.

[3] Smoking (General Lifestyle Survey Overview – a report on the 2011 General Lifestyle Survey) Table 1.13

[4] 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 and Tobacco Research. 2018 Nov 15;20(12):1427-33.

[5] Chaiton M, Diemert L, Cohen JE, et al. Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokers. BMJ Open 2016;6:e011045. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011045

[6] Loren Kock, PhD, Jamie Brown, PhD, Lion Shahab, PhD, Harry Tattan-Birch, MSc, Graham Moore, PhD, Sharon Cox, PhD, Inequalities in Smoking and Quitting-Related Outcomes Among Adults With and Without Children in the Household 2013–2019: A Population Survey in England, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2021;, ntab211,

[7] ASH Ready Reckoner 2022: Cost of Smoking.

[8] H Reed (2021), Estimates of poverty in the UK adjusted for expenditure on tobacco – 2021 update.

[9] H Reed (2020), The impact of smoking history on employment prospects, earnings and productivity: an analysis using UK panel data.

[10] H Reed (2021), The costs of smoking to the social care system and related costs for older people in England: 2021 revision.