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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 18:50 GMT
Grim toll of smoking
Smoker Smoking can be very hard to quit

More than 122,000 British smokers will die prematurely in the year 2000 from a smoking-related disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The calculation is based on the fact that 28% of men and 27% of women in the UK are smokers.

The WHO has developed a technique to assess the impact of smoking on society, and to measure the effect of successfully persuading people to give up the habit.

If the government concentrated efforts at persuading people to quit, it says, then millions would be slashed from the future cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses.

Using the model, WHO researchers have calculated that over the next 20 years:

  • Forty-six per cent of the current smoking population - approximately seven million people - will have acquired a smoking-related illness.

  • 2.4 million smokers will have died from a smoking-related disease

  • An estimated 30bn will be spent on treating six key smoking diseases

Key smoking -related problems
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder
Coronary Heart Disease
Low birth weight babies
Lung cancer
The WHO has calculated that if the UK government can increase the rate of quitting among smokers to 4.4% in any one year, then 44m savings would be made in treating smoking-related diseases during the next 20 years.

If three out of 10 smokers could be helped to quit the total saving on healthcare spending would jump to 253m.

Quitting works

Dr Peter Anderson is acting director of health promotion and disease prevention at the WHO regional office for Europe.

He said: "The WHO hope that this data will convince governments to back initiatives to encourage quitting, which in turn will achieve significant benefits for their healthcare systems."

Quitting smoking at any age has a positive impact on a person's health.

After one year an ex-smoker's risk of a heart attack is the same as that of a person who never smoked.

In any one year, 36% of smokers attempt to quit. However, nine out of 10 fail because most try to quit using willpower alone.

The success rate is greatly increased if a smoker seeks professional help.

The WHO has calculated that if drug therapy helped 4.4% of smokers to quit, it would cost 1,579 for every year of life saved.

If the success rate was 19%, the cost would fall to 356 per year of life saved.

This makes drug therapy much cheaper than the cost of treatments such as hypertension drugs and coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "The basic message is that it is much cheaper to target efforts at helping people give up now, rather than paying to mop up the mess when they get older and very ill."

Mr Bates called on the government to make products such as nicotine replacement therapy more easily available.

The WHO's Health and Economic Consequences of Smoking (HECOS) model can be found on the WHO Europe website
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See also:
19 Nov 99 |  Medical notes
Smoking: The health effects
25 Oct 99 |  Health
Smoking 'killing young women'
17 Aug 99 |  Health
Passive smoking stroke risk
27 Jul 99 |  Health
Smoking in pregnancy up again

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