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NHS would save more than £500m a year if half of England's adult smokers vaped instead

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New research from Brunel University London reveals how switching smokers could help save the NHS millions. 

Despite the widespread knowledge about the harmful effects of tobacco smoking, tobacco use remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and premature deaths in England. 

Smoking accounts for approximately 74,600 deaths a year in England and there were an estimated 506,100 smoking-related admissions to England’s hospitals between 2019 and 2020. 

The cost of smoking to the National Health Service in England is estimated to be £2.5 billion a year and the government is determined to cut this expenditure. 

In 2019, the government announced an ambition for England to become ‘smoke-free’ by 2030, with smokers either quitting tobacco or switching to a reduced risk product, known as an RRP. This could be an electric cigarette or vaping product. 

Prof Francesco Moscone, a business economics expert from Brunel University London, has conducted a new study to assess the potential savings for the NHS if some of England’s smokers converted to RRPs. 

“Cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the five main disease categories caused by smoking cigarettes. Such illnesses put significant burdens on the NHS, which we know is already under increasing pressure,” said Prof Moscone. 

“Although the long-term effects of RRPs are still unknown, we know from previous research that alternatives to traditional cigarettes result in a 90% reduction in the exposure to chemicals that are major contributors to health risks.” 

For the study, published in the British Journal of Healthcare Management, Prof Moscone calculated that a traditional smoker transitioning to RRPs would have a 70% reduction in smoking-related diseases. This was based on the fact that they would no longer be exposed to the harmful chemicals in traditional cigarettes. 

“Under a 50% conversion scenario, with half of smokers turning to RRPs, the NHS would save an estimated £518 million in an average year. If the conversion rate was just 10%, the NHS would save £103 million,” he said. 

“If smokers transitioned to RRPs, it would significantly reduce the pressure on the NHS and free up much-needed hospital resources for other treatments.” 

The study reflected on geographical differences, with the number of people with lung cancer in the North East & Yorkshire region almost double the number in other English regions. 

Prof Moscone highlighted that the region is currently facing significant smoke-related health challenges, with lung cancer treatment alone costing the NHS more than £156 million a year, and would therefore see the biggest reduction in savings if smokers switched to RRPs. 

“If 10% of smokers in the North East & Yorkshire switched to RRPs, the total expenditure savings for the NHS would be £30 million. If half of smokers in the region made the switch, the NHS would save £148 million,” he said. 

Last year, the government reported that without further action, England will miss the smoke-free 2030 target by at least 7 years, and those in the poorest areas in society will not meet the target until 2044. 

“Embracing the transition to RRPs would not only save the NHS millions of pounds, but it would present a crucial opportunity for us to regain momentum and align with our ambitious 2030 plan,” said Prof Moscone.

“By embracing innovation and recognising the potential of RRPs, we can chart a course towards a future with reduced risks while remaining resolute in our commitment to achieving our goals.”

‘Does Switching to Reduced Risk Products Free up Hospital Resources? A Reflection using English Regional Data’, by Francesco Moscone, is published in the British Journal of Healthcare Management.

Reported by:

Nadine Palmer, Media Relations
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