Smoking causes about one in four deaths from cancer

9 November 2023
What was claimed

One in four cancers are as a result of smoking.

Our verdict

This is not quite right. Around 15% of cancer cases are caused by smoking in the UK. But it does cause roughly one in four cancer deaths.

One in four cancers are as a result of smoking

Steve Barclay MP, 8 November 2023.

The health secretary Steve Barclay told BBC Breakfast [video removed] and Sky News that smoking causes a quarter of all cancers.

This is not quite right. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed with Full Fact that Mr Barclay had meant to say that smoking causes a quarter of deaths from cancer. 

This statistic appears in a Number 10 press statement and was cited on X (formerly Twitter) by the Prime Minister on the same day that Mr Barclay was speaking. 

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer – causing around 1 in 4 cancer deaths and 64,000 in England alone.”

In another recent estimate, Cancer Research UK has said that smoking causes slightly more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in the country, at 28%. Worldwide, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), an independent public health charity set up by the Royal College of Physicians, estimates that smoking causes about 22% of all cancer deaths. 

Smoking does cause a large proportion of the UK’s cancer cases. Cancer Research UK cites research suggesting that it amounts to about 15% in the UK

Ministers should take care to use statistics accurately. When mistakes are made, they should be corrected publicly as soon as possible.

Image courtesy of Richard Townshend

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, Mel Stride made this claim in Parliament, so we asked him to correct the record.

Mel Stride issued a correction.

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