Smokers need social care ten years earlier

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Smokers in England will need help with everyday tasks including ‘dressing, walking across a room and using the toilet’ ten years earlier on average, according to a new report from ASH.

Around 1.5m people need care by the age of 63 as a result of their smoking, says The cost of smoking to the social care system

While current smokers and people who quit within the last ten years are more likely to need support with all activities than people who have never smoked, they are ‘particularly likely to need support with relatively time consuming, fundamental activities’, says the report, such help with dressing and undressing, having a bath or shower, or getting in and out of bed. 

The annual cost to the country’s budget for home and residential adult care is around £1.2bn, the document adds, with more than 100,000 people thought to be receiving local authority-funded care as a result of smoking – 17,500 in residential care and 85,000 in their own homes. While the figure is around 8 per cent of the annual budget for home and residential adult care, it is half of the additional £2.5bn annual cost to the NHS. 

Overall, more than 1.5m adults have social care needs as a result of smoking, it says, with more than 1m receiving unpaid care from partners, relatives or friends and 450,000 receiving no support at all. Smokers are 2.5 times more likely to have unmet care needs than people who have never smoked, and 2.7 times more likely to receive unpaid social care support. 

Smoking remains England’s leading cause of premature and preventable death, killing almost 75,000 people in 2019. ‘For every person killed by smoking, at least another 30 are estimated to be living with serious smoking-related disease and disability,’ says ASH. 

‘This report reveals the shocking extent to which smoking damages the quality of people’s lives, and of those around them, before going on to kill them prematurely,’ said ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott. ‘On average smokers need social care at 63, ten years earlier than non-smokers, so if the government truly wants to extend healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035, ending smoking is a priority. However, achieving the Smokefree 2030 target won’t be easy and requires investment at a time when the government has a massive budget deficit. Tobacco manufacturers on the other hand remain extremely profitable and should be made to pay a levy on their sales as they do in the US, to help make smoking obsolete.’

‘Public health funding has not kept pace with funding for the NHS and this must change if local government is to play a full role in improving the health of the nation,’ added chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Ian Hudspeth. ‘The forthcoming spending review must be the moment to put public health and social care on a sustainable footing so that councils can continue their vital work in supporting, promoting and improving people’s wellbeing.’

Report at ash.org.uk