The NHS would save some £67 million a year if the UK can cut by half the number of people who smoke, according to Cancer Research UK.

The UK is projected to have a smoking rate of 10 percent by 2035, with a marked difference between the most deprived groups (15 percent of whom are expected to smoke) and the wealthiest (whose rate is just 2.5 percent).

Cutting the country’s smoking rate to 5 percent by 2035 would not only save tens of millions of pounds in direct NHS and social care costs but would also save £548 million in additional costs to the economy in 2035.

The study, which was commissioned by the charity, carried out by the UK Health Forum and published in Tobacco Control, also found cutting smoking rates would avoid nearly 100,000 new cases of smoking-related disease including 35,900 cancers over 20 years.

UK Health Forum chief executive Professor Paul Lincoln said: “This study highlights the huge burden that smoking places on our society, particularly on the poorest and least advantaged groups.

“Unless we reduce the demand on the NHS from preventable causes of disease like smoking, it will be difficult to continue to provide sustainable healthcare for everyone who needs it.”

By publishing the research ahead of the UK’s General Election, Cancer Research hopes to focus attention on the need for a new Tobacco Control Strategy, part of which it said would look at ways to support the future sustainability of the NHS.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “Bold and ambitious targets are needed to save the thousands of lives and millions of pounds of NHS money lost to tobacco.

“We want the next Government to share our ambition for the next generation of children to grow up ‘tobacco-free’. This target should be at the heart of a new strategy to tackle smoking.”

The charity said that, if achieved, its five per cent smoking prevalence target could mean 97,300 fewer new cases of smoking related disease over 20 years, including 35,900 tobacco related cancers, 29,000 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 24,900 strokes and 7,600 cases of coronary heart disease.