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New research finds smokers more likely than non-smokers to be without work, and to earn less when in work, forfeiting £14bn a year in lost income

24 Sep 2020

24 September 2020

New research finds smokers more likely than non-smokers to be without work, and to earn less when in work, forfeiting £14bn a year in lost income

A new analysis by Landman Economics for health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds that the collective impact of joblessness and lower earnings for smokers amounts to £14.1bn a year. Over 300,000 smokers over 21 are economically inactive each year, forfeiting £6.9bn in lost earnings, while the 5.05 million in employment earn £7.2bn less than non-smokers. Working smokers have weekly earnings that are on average 6.8 per cent lower than non-smokers; equivalent to £1,424 per smoker.[1]

ASH is submitting the research to the Comprehensive Spending Review,[2] [3] to demonstrate how the Government’s ambition to end smoking [4] also has a crucial role to play in delivering the ‘levelling up’ agenda, [5] particularly in the poorest most disadvantaged communities where smoking rates are highest.

ASH, together with many other leading health organisations, is calling on the Government to use the Spending Review to put the public health grant on a long-term sustainable footing for the future. An analysis by the Health Foundation has found that an extra £0.9bn a year is required to reverse real term per capita cuts since 2015/16 and over £2bn a year extra would be needed to allow additional investment in the most deprived areas where there is greatest need. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.[6]

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said:

“Our findings demonstrate how crucial the Government’s ambition to end smoking is to delivery of other key pledges to ‘level up’ economic opportunity and close the health gap between the richest and poorest. Funding for public health must be put on a strong and sustainable footing or the Government will not be able to achieve any of these pledges. The Spending Review must provide the significant additional investment that is desperately needed. The ‘polluter pays’ levy on tobacco manufacturers, which the Government promised to consider over a year ago, should be introduced without further delay.”

The analysis compared the employment prospects of smokers and non-smokers using national government surveys, and found that over time, and adjusting for other factors such as level of education, smokers were 5% less likely to be in employment compared to non-smokers, rising to 7.5% for those who had been smoking longer. [1]

After controlling for age, gender and educational attainment, the relationship between unemployment and smoking appears to be driven primarily by disability caused by smoking-related illness, which impacts worse on smokers than non-smokers. Disabled smokers are around 12.5% less likely to be in work than disabled non-smokers. [1]

Lisa, from Salford, ran a successful catering business for 35 years until the health impact of her smoking forced her to close it down. She struggled on with her business and illness for a number of years before it became too much:

The doctor and my family had been bugging me for years to sell the business. Finally, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was totally devastated when I had to give it up. I still can’t walk into the place, I will go to the area nearby, but I just can’t face it, it’s too hard. All that damage to my life and my business, it was not worth it for the smoking.”



ASH staff are available for interview. For more information contact or out of hours Deborah Arnott, ASH Chief Executive on 07976 935 987, and Hazel Cheeseman, ASH Director of Policy on 077 5435 8593

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] Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Smoking, employability and earnings. September 2020. Contact for copy of full report.

[2] HMT. Comprehensive Spending Review 2020 representations: guidance

[3] Contact for a copy of the detailed Comprehensive Spending Review representation.

[4] Department for Health and Social Care and Cabinet Office. Advancing our health: Prevention in the 2020s. July 2019.

[5] HM Treasury. Budget 2020: Delivering on our promises to the British people. March 2020.

[6] Second joint statement to the Government on public health reorganisation. September 2020.

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