The BMA has a long history supporting measures to reduce tobacco-related harm and have wide-ranging policies aimed at strengthening tobacco control and helping smokers to quit.

Location: UK
Audience: Public health doctors
Updated: Wednesday 9 March 2022
Public Health Article Illustration

Our policy

Doctors witness first-hand the devastating effects of smoking on their patients.

The BMA has a long history and strong policy for supporting measures to reduce tobacco-related harm, and has developed wide-ranging policy in this area. Many of these have been successfully implemented, supporting a long-term decline in overall smoking prevalence.

Despite this, smoking remains a leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK.

BMA policy on tobacco includes support for:

  • the provision of adequately funded, targeted smoking cessation services
  • increasing taxation on all tobacco products above the rate of inflation and, specifically, increasing the tobacco tax escalator from two to five per cent above inflation
  • a positive licensing scheme to reduce the number of tobacco outlets
  • continued reduction tobacco marketing opportunities
  • limiting pro-smoking imagery in entertainment media.

Our paper Promoting a tobacco-free society sets out BMA’s position on the future for tobacco control in more detail, and considers the measures needed to move towards a tobacco-free society in the UK.


Statistics on tobacco use

An estimated 15.8% of adults in the UK now smoke (17.7% of men and 14.1% of women). This is down from 20% in 2010.

Every year there are approximately 100,000 deaths in the UK from diseases caused by smoking.


  • An estimated 15.5% of adults in England smoke.
  • In England there were an estimated 475,000 hospital admissions attributable to smoking in 2015/16.
  • According to the charity Action on Smoking and Health, smoking related ill health cost the social care system in England £1.4 billion annually.


  • An estimated 17.7% of adults in Scotland smoke.
  • Smoking-associated diseases costs the Scottish healthcare system an estimated £271m each year, according to calculations by the charity Action on Smoking on Health in Scotland.


  • An estimated 16.9% of adults in Wales smoke.
  • Estimated smoking costs for NHS Wales are more than £380m a year, accounting for 7% of healthcare expenditure.

Northern Ireland

  • An estimated 18.1% of adults in Northern Ireland smoke.
  • Nearly 16,700 people are believed to be admitted to hospital for smoking-related illnesses each year.


Smokefree by 2030

Decisive action is needed from the Government if it is to achieve its ambition to make the UK smoke free by 2030. We support the smokefree action coalition roadmap to 2030 and call on the Government to commit to:

  1. legislate to require tobacco manufacturers to finance a Smokefree 2030 Fund, which will support: multi-channel public education campaigns at national and regional level; regional and local tobacco control programmes; and universal access to support for smokers to quit in healthcare and community settings
  2. consult on the policy proposals submitted in response to the Green Paper for stricter regulation of tobacco, its sale, marketing and use
  3. ensure the NHS Long Term Plan commitments to provide smoking cessation in the NHS in England are delivered
  4. review and revise e-cigarette regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose in helping smokers quit while managing and minimising any risk of uptake by never smokers
  5. implement greater reductions in affordability through increased taxation
  6. update the Tobacco Control Plan for England in line with the Smokefree 2030 ambition
  7. renew and refresh the Government’s strategy to control the illicit trade in tobacco
  8. sustain Government commitment to support FCTC implementation abroad as well as at home.


E-cigarettes: balancing risks and opportunities

This paper discusses the regulation of e-cigarettes and argues for an approach that seeks to minimise their risks while maximising their potential to reduce the health burden associated with smoking.

What you will get in this report

  • Answers to some common questions about e-cigarettes to support doctors when discussing their use with patients.
  • Key messages for policymakers about safety, effectiveness and regulation.
  • Research and data to support decisions about the use of e-cigarettes.


Key stats

  • There is growing consensus that using an e-cigarette is substantially safer than smoking tobacco.
  • Unlike smoking, e-cigarette use does not involve combustion. While the constituents of e-cigarette vapour can vary, and some of the toxicants present in tobacco smoke have been detected in e-cigarette aerosol, they are typically present at levels which are much lower than in tobacco smoke.
  • E-cigarettes currently available are consumer-regulated products which have to meet product safety standards, but the standards are not as rigorous as for licensed medicines.
  • Given the limited time for which these products have been widely available, there is limited information about the long-term health impact of their use.