The majority of smokers do not appreciate the risks of their habit, according to new research from the NHS in England, which has launched a new Smokefree campaign to help smokers quit this New Year.

The NHS commissioned research and consulting organisation YouGov to carry out the research. They surveyed 1,000 smoking adults in England between 8th and 12th December 2011.

The results suggest that more than half of smokers underestimate the damage smoking does to their personal health and finances:

  • 53% of smokers underestimate how many people die each year from smoking-related diseases by 70,000 or more (actual figures show that in England, over 80,000 deaths a year are smoking-related).
  • 58% underestimate how many long-term smokers die early because of their habit (actual figures show half of all long-term smokers die prematurely from a smoking-related disease).
  • 35% underestimate how many cancer deaths are caused by smoking (in England, estimates put this at nearly a third of all cancer deaths).
  • 8% of smokers still don’t believe smoking can seriously damage their health and lead to early death.
  • Smokers tend to understimate the financial cost of smoking. With a pack of 20 cigarettes now costing an average of £6.59, a smoker who smokes 20 a day spends over £2,400 a year on cigarettes. The survey showed on average, smokers under-estimate the annual cost of their habit by more than £600.

Public Health Minister Anne Milton said:

“Quitting smoking is the very best thing you can do to improve your health this New Year.”

“What’s clear is that the majority of smokers want to quit smoking and free NHS help is available to help them quit for good,” she added.

The survey also revealed other misconceptions that could be preventing smokers from quitting.

For instance, over a third said they felt too stressed to quit. Another third said they didn’t have the willpower to quit, and the rest said they aren’t quitting because they had tried before and failed.

But, the NHS says these misconceptions go against the reality revealed by research: that smoking causes more stress and anxiety than not smoking. And quitting actually reduces stress.

For example, Andy Parrott, a psychologist of the University of East London, has published research in the American Psychologist that shows the apparent relaxant effect of smoking is only counteracting the tension and irritability caused by nicotine withdrawal, and that far from acting as an aid for mood control, nicotine dependency appears to increase stress.

Professor Parrot has also reviewed the evidence surrounding quitting smoking and concludes that quitting reduces stress.

There is also evidence that you can raise your chances of quitting successfully by using NHS support, and you can boost your willpower with simple exercises, such as those available in the NHS’s new and improved Quit Kit, which will be available from participating pharmacies in England from 1 January.

The Quit Kit contains advice and tools put together by experts, smokers and ex-smokers to help smokers quit for good. The kit is free, and you can search for your nearest stockist online at

Milton said:

“The new and improved NHS Quit Kit is available in chemists who are working with us across England and will give smokers who want to give up advice, information and tools to help them enjoy a healthier 2012.”

Figures from the NHS show smoking is still the biggest cause of early death and preventable disease in England: bigger than the next six causes put together. The total cost of smoking to the NHS is thought to be in the region of £2.7bn a year.

Around half of all smokers eventually die because of an illness linked to their habit.

There are more than 8 million smokers in England.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD