If Redbridge smokers in social housing gave up, they wouldn’t be in poverty and arrears, campaign group claims

Should Ash target social housing smokers? Picture: PA

Should Ash target social housing smokers? Picture: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

If 60per cent of smokers in social housing gave up the habit, their savings would cover all expected rent arrears in the borough, an anti-smoking group has claimed.

According to Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), Redbridge Council owns or manages 4,256 homes and of these 545 are estimated to be smoking households.

Each week the borough is expected to earn £506,692 in rental charges but around £18,241 is unpaid in rental arrears.

"As a result, an additional 16.9per cent of social renters in Redbridge will be living in poverty," an Ash spokeswoman said.

"Helping social housing tenants in Redbridge to quit smoking could return around £30,955 of disposable income to the community each week.

"If these savings were paid towards rent instead of tobacco products, social tenant arrears in Redbridge could be wiped out if 321 smoking households (59pc) were to quit."

Ash is urging social landlords to use their unique position to provide additional support to help tenants stop smoking.

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It said the support will not only help arrears and improve finances but save lives.

It also claims that social housing tenants are in fact more likely to have tried to quit in the past year, but are less likely to succeed.

Ciaran Osborne, director of policy at Ash, said: "Most social housing tenants want to quit smoking and doing so can help them climb out of rent arrears and debt.

"If social landlords take a more proactive approach to supporting their tenants to quit, everyone benefits except the tobacco industry."

However pro-smoking group Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest), said encouraging tenants to give up is a stepping stone to getting the habit banned from residential homes.

"Anti-smoking campaigners say they don't want to ban smoking in the home but this is a clear attempt to influence social landlords to do exactly that," Simon Clark, director of Forest, said.

"A ban on smoking in social housing would discriminate against smokers who are less well off and unable to own their own homes.

"This is more middle-class meddling in other people's lives and many of us are sick of it."

Mr Clark said for some residents, smoking is one of the few pleasures they have in life.

He added that Ash wants to take that pleasure away not though "education but by creeping prohibition and punitive taxation".

"Ash talk about smokers living in poverty," he said.

"One cause of that is the absurd rates of tobacco duty which are advocated and welcomed by the anti-smoking industry."

Redbridge Council has been contacted for comment and the story will be updated, when its response comes in.

A Redbridge Coucnil spokeswoman said: "Smoking is the leading cause of preventable premature death and we want to empower and support as many people as possible to quit.

"Stigmatising those seeking out help to kick their smoking habit is not helpful, and as a council we believe in fully supporting those wishing to make changes leading to healthier lifestyles.

"As a result, we're launching a new free service next month which includes targeting high risk groups such as those in social housing who smoke, people with mental health problems, pregnant women who smoke, and those with health conditions caused or made worse by smoking.

"Our new approach will enable us to support more people closer to where they live and will draw on health professionals from across the borough to identify and help the most vulnerable to quit smoking.

"For help to quit smoking, you can contact the Redbridge Stop Smoking Service on 0333 005 0095 or email clinical.contactcentre@nhs.net.

"The service provides face-to-face and telephone support to help you on your journey of becoming Smokefree."