Poorer communities see twice as many smoking related cancers as richer areas, says study

·3-min read
Smoking is linked to poverty and is causing more cancers in poorer communities (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Smoking is linked to poverty and is causing more cancers in poorer communities (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are nearly twice as many cancers caused by smoking among the poorest people in England compared to the wealthiest, new figures by Cancer Research UK show.

In the first study to try and quantify the effect of avoidable cancers linked to smoking researchers say there were 11,000 cases of smoking related cancers in the lowest income groups compared to only 6,000 cancers in the highest.

This is despite the overall number of cancers being higher in the older, more wealthy population. Younger people tend to earn less and dominate in the lower income groups, once the cases are standardised by age, the level of cancer is higher among the most deprived.

Smoking is known to cause at least 15 different types of cancer and is the biggest preventable cause of cancer and death worldwide. More than 27,000 cases of cancer a year in England are associated with poverty, or deprivation.

The Cancer Research UK study found that of these 27,000 cases of cancer caused by deprivation, if smoking inequalities were removed and smoking rates were the same for everyone, around 5,500 fewer cancers would occur each year in England.

Those living in more deprived communities are 2.5 times more likely to smoke than those living in more affluent areas. It is a major contributor to the gap in health inequalities which has been worsened and exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government has set a goal of England becoming smokefree by 2030, but without more action deprived areas will not hit this target until the 2040s, almost 20 years after the wealthier communities.

Cancer Research UK said stop smoking services and public health campaigns have been drastically cut and wants a fund to reduce smoking paid for by tobacco companies.

Public health expert, Professor Linda Bauld, said: “Smoking has accounted for more deaths than Covid-19 in the past year. Public health and prevention services play a vital role in tackling health inequalities as well as improving health and wellbeing across England. This has come into even sharper focus since the pandemic, which has exposed where investment in these services has fallen behind.

“Decades of glitzy packaging and marketing by the tobacco industry and targeting vulnerable groups has led us here. It's not a case of just telling people to stop smoking - going cold turkey doesn’t work for everyone. People who smoke shouldn’t be blamed but need support and the right tools to help them quit.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “It’s very concerning that smoking causes more cancer cases in more deprived groups. Funding for tobacco control activities in England has been significantly cut in recent years, which will undermine the Government’s Smokefree 2030 goal unless this is urgently reversed.

“The upcoming tobacco control plan for England is a key opportunity for the government to tackle smoking rates as well as the long-standing, unacceptable health inequalities that exist across the country.

“But this can only be achieved if there is sufficient additional investment into tobacco control. A Smokefree Fund – using tobacco industry funds, but without industry interference – could pay for the comprehensive measures needed to reduce smoking rates across all socio-economic groups.”

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