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RespiratoryDec 15, 2023

More than 400,000 people were admitted to hospitals in England for smoking-related reasons in a year

Smoking-related hospital admissions in England increased by nearly 5 per cent in 2022-23 in comparison to the previous year, but they remain lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 400,000 people were admitted to hospitals in England in the year 2021-22 with health problems that were due to smoking, an increase of 4.8 per cent on the previous one.

The figures, which were published today (16 December) in NHS England’s Statistics on Public Health, 2023, show that the number of admissions totalled 408,700 – up from 389,800 in the previous year.

The report also covers 2020-21, when there were 314,100 admissions attributed to smoking – a figure that was consistent with fewer hospital admissions overall being recorded in that year. Smoking-related admissions in each of the past three years were lower than in 2019-20 – prior to the Covid-19 pandemic – when the number stood at 446,400.

About one person in six (16%) who went into hospital with a respiratory disease in 2022-23 had an issue related to smoking, it is estimated, while the habit also caused 8 per cent of all admissions for cancers and 7 per cent of those for cardiovascular diseases.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Hospital admissions due to smoking up nearly 5 per cent last year, NHS data show

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Long decline in smoking rates 'have stalled'

Meanwhile, a study published earlier this week in the journal BMC Medicine also suggested that a decades-long decline in smoking prevalence in England stalled after the start of the pandemic. The study, led by UCL researchers and funded by Cancer Research UK, looked at survey responses from 101,960 adults and found the rate of decline slowed to 0.3 per cent.

Matt Fagg, NHS England’s director for prevention and long-term conditions, said: ‘We have seen great progress in prevention and tackling smoking-related ill health in recent years, with smoking rates falling significantly in the UK and remaining below most of our peers internationally, but it is clear there is still more to do to help save and improve more lives.'

He added: ‘Quitting smoking is the best way to improve health and to prevent over 50 serious smoking-related illnesses from developing, but we know it can be very difficult to overcome an addiction. That is why the NHS is rolling out dedicated support for patients in hospital to tackle their tobacco dependency, in addition to traditional Stop Smoking Services.

‘Being in hospital is a significant event in someone’s life and people can be more open to making healthier choices. The tobacco dependence treatment offered by the NHS can significantly improve the health and wellbeing of the person smoking and their family.’

'Smoke-free generation by 2030'

The government has called for the creation of a smoke-free generation by 2030, with a focus on stopping people from starting to smoke. The NHS also offers dedicated support for pregnant women to stop smoking. The Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle is a clinical guide for maternity service providers to help reduce stillbirths and pre-term birth rates, both of which are more prevalent among pregnant women who smoke.

Public health minister Andrea Leadsom said: ‘No other consumer product kills up to two-thirds of its users, which is why we have set out plans to stop children who turn 14 this year and younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes.' Ms Leadson said this was the 'most significant public health intervention in a generation'.  

She added: ‘We are doubling funding for stop smoking services, helping 360,000 people quit, and providing local authorities with one million free vapes via our world-first "Swap to Stop" programme.'

Smoking remains the biggest cause of lung disease deaths in the UK and there is a direct link between it and preventable lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [Henry Gregg, Asthma + Lung UK]

Early lung cancer diagnosis programme

In the autumn, the NHS launched a bid to improve the rates at which lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage. Lung cancers caused by smoking account for 7 per cent of cases. More than a million current or former smokers have so far been invited for lung cancer checks in community locations through the Targeted Lung Cancer Health Check initiative.

The checks have also identified thousands of people with other undiagnosed respiratory conditions, allowing them to get treatment much quicker and prevent potential hospitalisations.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: ‘Smoking is the leading cause of premature death responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the most and least advantaged in society.'

She added: ‘The provision of tobacco dependence treatment by the NHS is playing a vital role in improving the health and wellbeing of the nation and reducing health inequalities across society. When sick smokers quit they improve both their quality and length of life and free up NHS capacity at a time when, more than ever, this is sorely needed.’

Henry Gregg, director of external affairs at Asthma + Lung UK, said: ‘Smoking remains the biggest cause of lung disease deaths in the UK and there is a direct link between it and preventable lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.'

He added: ‘Smokers are also at a higher risk of getting chest infections, including flu, pneumonia and Covid-19, and experiencing more severe symptoms.’

The Statistics on Public Health, 2023 report also covers topics such as hospital admissions with obesity as a primary or secondary diagnosis, which means obesity was a contributory factor, as well as data on bariatric surgery procedures.

Author: I A McMillan
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