Number of smokers in UK continues to fall

cigarette butt

The proportion of people smoking in the UK is continuing to fall, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. Data show that 15.8% of adults smoked in the UK in 2016, down from 17.2% in 2015, and down by four percentage points since 2010. The decrease is particularly marked among the young. In 2010, the prevalence of smoking in people aged 18 –24 years was 26%, but this figure had fallen to 19% in 2016.

The report also found differences in smoking rates across the UK with 15.5% of adults in England, 16.9% in Wales, 17.7% in Scotland and 18.1% in Northern Ireland saying they smoke. More men (17.7%) than women (14.1%) are current smokers, according to the report, which is published in collaboration with Public Health England (PHE).

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, says the new figures mean that there are over half a million fewer smokers within just one year. “But what is really fantastic news is that this steep decline is even greater among young adults, where smoking has fallen by a staggering quarter since 2010, reversing a long trend.

“The UK now has the second lowest smoking rates in Europe,” he adds, although he acknowledges that more still needs to be done.

“While there is much to be positive about, large gaps still exist between the richest and poorest areas — with the highest rates over five times greater than the lowest.” 

But overall, he says, the figures offer hope in tackling smoking.

“It’s now hard to believe that back in 1974 almost half of adults smoked,” said Selbie. “But now an end really is in sight and we have a real opportunity to virtually eliminate all the harm, misery and death caused by smoking.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said that the fall — the largest annual drop in 40 years — proves that tobacco control policies work. But, she warns, we must not stop now.

“Every day since the last tobacco control plan expired on 31 December 2015, hundreds of under 16s have started smoking.”

Arnott adds that 1 July 2017 will be the tenth anniversary of the implementation of smoke-free legislation in England, “a worthy date for publication of the next Tobacco Control Plan, with a commitment to delivering a smoke free future for our children”. 

Other trends highlighted in the report, which is compiled from two large national surveys (the Annual Population Survey and the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey), include that across the UK, 5.6% of people — around 2.9 million people — used e-cigarettes in 2016.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, June 2017;():DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20203022

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