Call for bold targets to save 'thousands of lives' and NHS money lost to tobacco
Thousands of cases of cancer, heart disease and stroke could be avoided if just 5% of the population smoked by 2035, research suggests.
A new study, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, also found there would be huge savings to the NHS if smoking rates fall at a more rapid rate than at present.
In 2015, 17.2% of people smoked, down from 20.1% in 2010.
If today's trends continue, around 10% of people are predicted to smoke in 2035, with the total at 15% among the most deprived groups and 2.5% among the wealthiest.
But Cancer Research UK argues that the UK should set an "ambitious" target to be "smoke-free" - with less than 5% of the population smoking - by 2035.
The research, published in the journal Tobacco Control, says the NHS could save £67 million in just one year if 5% of people smoked, with an extra £548 million of savings to the wider economy in 2035 alone.
There could also be 97,300 fewer new cases of smoking-related disease over 20 years, including 35,900 tobacco-related cancers, 29,000 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 24,900 strokes and 7,600 cases of heart disease.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer prevention, said: "Bold and ambitious targets are needed to save the thousands of lives and millions of pounds of NHS money lost to tobacco.
"We want the next Government to share our ambition for the next generation of children to grow up 'tobacco-free'. This target should be at the heart of a new strategy to tackle smoking.
"Measures like sustained funding for Stop Smoking Services, mass media campaigns and increased tax on tobacco all have the potential to help smokers to stop, and create much-needed revenue to support programmes that will reduce the burden on our health service."
Professor Paul Lincoln, chief executive of the UK Health Forum, which conducted the study, said: "This study highlights the huge burden that smoking places on our society, particularly on the poorest and least advantaged groups.
"Unless we reduce the demand on the NHS from preventable causes of disease like smoking, it will be difficult to continue to provide sustainable healthcare for everyone who needs it.
"We hope that by showing the clear benefits of this tobacco-free ambition, we can inform tobacco control policy in the UK and even worldwide."