Stoptober is under way: a national challenge to all smokers to quit and stay smoke-free for the month of October. It's the first step to stopping for good, because people who can get through the first tough weeks are far more likely to give up the habit permanently.
Last year, a quarter of a million people took part in Stoptober and many of them quit for the whole month. We're doing all we can, here at Public Health England, to make sure this year's campaign supports even more people in their quit attempts. Whether it's a daily motivational text, lots of advice and tips for coping with withdrawal symptoms, support from thousands of others quitting at the same time, or humour from top British comedians backing Stoptober - there'll be something there for everyone.
We all have a stake in making Stoptober a success. First, because given how widespread smoking still is (nearly one in five of us), we probably all know someone who smokes. Second, because we'll all be better off, as a nation, if we can reduce smoking levels. It's important to stress how wide-ranging these collective benefits are. Of course, the health impacts are well understood. We'll reduce premature mortality faster if we can cut smoking levels because smoking contributes to the biggest killers: cancers and cardiovascular disease. One in every two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness unless he or she quits.
But what's perhaps less well appreciated is that smoking hurts the wealth as well as the health of the nation. It's been calculated that overall in England, smoking costs society over £13 billion each year. And even adjusting for the duty that smokers pay on tobacco, the country is still worse off, to the tune of £4 billion each year.
Of course, there's the strain this places on the health and social care services, which deal directly with the burden of ill-health and disease related to smoking. But our economy loses out as well: it's estimated that every year, smoking-related early deaths in England amount to the equivalent of some 158,000 years of lost productivity, costing approximately £3 billion. Smoking-related sick days also cost businesses, as do the seemingly trivial breaks in the day when employees nip out to smoke - estimated to cost a whopping £5 billion a year.
But if businesses have a lot to lose from smoking, they're also ideally placed to be part of the solution. There are 30 million people in employment in the UK. Many of us in jobs will have lifestyles that are at least partly influenced by where we work and who we work with. So the workplace can - and often does - provide important opportunities for action on health - smoking cessation is no exception.
Our ambition for Stoptober is to create a social movement; one which uses the power of social networks to spread a message of encouragement to those who want to quit. So we'd like to call on businesses around the country, large and small, to lend their support to all their employees taking their first brave step towards a smoke-free life this October.