About smoking

Smoking is the action of inhaling and exhaling tobacco smoke through cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.

Tobacco is made from the leaves of tobacco plants and contains nicotine, which is addictive. When you smoke tobacco, you absorb toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that affect your health.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable ill health, disability, and death in England, claiming lives of 64,000 people every year. It is responsible for one in four UK cancer deaths and is a primary cause of:

  • lung cancer
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • heart failure
  • dementia

Smoking also increases the risk of:

  • stillbirth
  • childhood asthma
  • premature aging
  • and significantly increases the burden on healthcare services

Second-hand smoke harms non-smokers too, particularly children and pregnant women.

Read more about the effects of second-hand (passive) smoking

It is also one of the biggest drivers of health inequalities across the country. Smoking-related deaths are 2.1 times higher in the most deprived local authorities than in the least deprived.

Smoking rates in pregnancy also vary hugely, with as many as 20% of pregnant women smoking in some parts of the country, which increases the chance of stillbirth by almost 50%.

Read more about smoking and pregnancy

In 2022, an independent review led by Dr Javed Khan OBE warned that, without intervention, nearly half a million more people will die from smoking-related illnesses by 2030.

Find out more about the independent review

Page last updated: 1 November 2023

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