Smoking is a leading cause of cancer for poorer Brits, study finds

Roughly 460 people die from cancer in the UK every day and, sadly, many of these deaths are linked to entirely preventable causes, like smoking and heavy drinking. These preventable cancers overwhelmingly afflict the most deprived communities in the country, a new study by Cancer Research UK has found.

Across all income brackets, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable cancer and death with 15 per cent of all cancer cases attributed to nicotine inhalation. However, people with the lowest incomes are more than twice as likely to develop a smoking-related cancer as those with the highest incomes.

In fact the study, which was published in science journal PLOS ONE, found that smoking could be linked to four in every five preventable cancers that afflict England’s poorest communities. This health disparity has prompted the cancer charity to call for a “specific focus” on smoking prevention in England’s poorest communities.

The Cancer Research UK led team came to these findings by doing a large scale data investigation into NHS England’s 2013-2017 cancer statistics, which the team then cross-referenced with smoking prevalence data and diagnosis prevalence among smokers vs non-smokers.

Their findings showed a clear disparity, with 21.1 per cent of cancer cases among the most deprived in the population linked to smoking, versus just 9.7 per cent in the most affluent.

According to their analysis, if nobody in England smoked at all, 16,000 cancer cases could be prevented each year. If the poorest fifth of society smoked as little as the top fifth, 5,000 cases would be prevented.

Among all cancer types, the proportion of cases linked to smoking was highest for lung, larynx, pharynx, bladder, and oesophageal cancers.

The study’s authors concluded that this disparity proves the need for more targeted smoking-prevention action within poorer communities, as well as greater controls on tobacco. They said: “This study is the first of its kind to quantitively assess the contribution of smoking to deprivation-associated cancer incidence in England.

“The findings help to confirm that smoking is the key driver of cancer incidence inequalities in England; therefore policy measures should continue to bring down smoking prevalence with a specific focus on the most deprived populations.”