England will fail its target to be “smoke-free” by 2030 if cigarette use continues as it is, research suggests.
Officials announced in July last year they want no more than 5% of adults smoking in the next decade.
Based on data from the Annual Population Survey, Cancer Research UK reveals it may be 2037 before “no one” is lighting up.
Smoking is on the decline in the UK, with about 5% fewer adults lighting up in 2018 than 2011.
Nonetheless, 14.7% of adults still had the habit two years ago, making up around 7.2 million people.
Smoking increases the risk of more than 50 serious health conditions and kills about 78,000 people a year in the UK.
Smoking kills 78,000 people a year: NHS
The government has yet to unveil its plans on how to get smoking rates down to 5%.
Cancer Research UK called investments in stop smoking services and national education campaigns “essential”, with both suffering cuts in recent years.
It adds smoking rates must fall by 40% for the “smoke-free” goal to be achieved.
“Our modelling suggests if the 2030 target is achieved, there could be around 3.4 million fewer smokers in England compared with today,” report author Dr Katrina Brown said.
“But unless [the] government acts to make smoking rates fall faster, we’re unlikely to reach the target.
“Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer, leading to around 120 cases of cancer in England every day, so it’s vital the government tackles tobacco to prevent illness and suffering.”
The latest figures reveal a 20-year gap in smoking rates between the least and most deprived in England.
The richest are set to be “smoke-free” by 2025, with the poorest only being expected to achieve the goal in the mid-2040s.
“Smoking, and its catastrophic impact on health, remains more common within poorer communities,” said Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK.
“More funding is needed to help these disadvantaged groups to quit as they are increasingly being left behind.”
She believes the tobacco industry should pay up to cover the £11bn ($14.1bn) smoking-related illnesses reportedly cost “society” in England alone every year.
“The tobacco industry makes more money every year than Coca Cola, Disney, Google, McDonalds and FedEx combined, while its products continue to kill people,” said Cox.
“It should be made to pay for the damage it causes, which is why we’re calling on the government to introduce an annual charge on the industry to fund these vital services that will help get England smoke-free by 2030.
“The government must act now if they are to see this smoke-free ambition become a reality.”
Read more: What is thirdhand smoke?
Outside of England, data suggests Scotland will be smoke-free after 2050, Wales in 2037 and Northern Ireland in the late 2040s.
“Councils can help the government to achieve its ambition of eliminating smoking in England by 2030, but need adequate long-term funding and certainty for their public health services to help do so,” said Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board.
“Smoking rates overall continue to fall, which is good news, but as this report highlights we need to keep reaching out to those most in need of support, including in the poorest areas where health inequalities are starkest.
“People’s lives are improved for the better by councils, with every pound invested by government in council-run services such as public health helping to relieve pressure on other services like the NHS, social care and welfare.
“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and local government stands ready to work with central government to tackle this.”