It’s time to talk about smoking

We know that housing is important to health. But while healthy housing conversations often focus on safety standards, build quality, protection from damp or ensuring homes are efficient and warm, we are missing a trick.

Ciaran Osborne, Director of Policy at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Ciaran Osborne, Director of Policy at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

3 July 2019

Tackling smoking in the home is an incredibly effective way to improve the health of thousands of people – and reduce health inequalities between rich and poor.

By implementing simple measures to support tenants who want to quit smoking, social housing providers can deliver significant benefits to tenants through improved health, improved finances and improved tenancy security.

Here’s why

Smoking remains the single largest cause of death and disease in the UK, killing around 78,000 people each year in England. For every person who dies from smoking another 20 are living with smoking related diseases.

Smoking is the leading cause of health inequalities in England, accounting for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest. This is due to drastic differences in smoking rates between socioeconomic groups – one in ten people in managerial and professional occupations smoke, compared to one in four people in routine and manual occupations. While motivation to quit is equal across all socioeconomic groups (with most smokers wanting to quit) those who are worse off face greater barriers and are consequently less successful in quit attempts.

These smoking related inequalities are mirrored across housing tenures. One in three people living in social housing smoke, compared to one in eight homeowners. Furthermore, most social housing tenants want to quit – they are more likely to have tried to quit than those living in other housing types, but they are less likely to succeed.

Because of these inequalities, death and disease caused by smoking is disproportionately concentrated among those living in social housing. Action is needed across the country to eliminate the harms caused by smoking, but a commitment to eliminating smoking-based inequality also requires greater support for groups at the sharp end.

Our analysis

Action on Smoking and Health’s new briefing, The Quitting Dividend For Tenants And Landlords, and our Cost of Smoking in Social Housing Calculator, sets out the financial case social housing providers to provide more support to tenants who want to stop smoking.

Our analysis shows that, when expenditure on smoking is taken into account, 512,000 social housing tenants are living in poverty – one in seven. On average, for social tenants who smoke, smoking consumes around an eighth of annual disposable income (more than £2,600). With the average rent arrears for social housing tenants in 2016/17 being just over £400, for those who smoke, arrears could be wiped out within nine weeks of quitting smoking.

See how local organisations have worked within their communities to help residents quit smoking in these case studies, from introducing smoke-free accommodation to offering e-cigarette pilot schemes.

It’s clear that urgent action is needed. By implementing simple measures to support tenants who smoke and want to quit, social housing providers can deliver significant benefits to tenants and themselves through improved health, improved finances and improved tenancy security.

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