Almost 2 million fewer smokers now than in 2011

The number of adult smokers in England has dropped from 7.7 million in 2011 to 5.9 million in 2018 - that's from 19.8% to 14.4%, according to Public Health England.

Rates of smoking are down almost a quarter from 19.3% five years ago. In the last year alone, almost 175,000 smokers have quit.

Smoking rates are continuing to drop and every year more and more smokers manage to kick the habit for good.

Could that decline be due to e-cigarettes?

Vaping is now the most popular stop-smoking aid in England - there are around 2.8 million vapers around the country, or 6.3%. Of adults who tried to stop smoking in the past year, 35.3% used vaping as an aid (compared to only 14.7% who used a prescription aid).

The UK is a world leader in vaping research and there's strong evidence showing that e-cigs are highly effective for smokers who want to quit. The latest data shows that by far, quitting smoking is the most common reason for vaping.  Other reasons given were that vaping is cheaper than tobacco products, that different e-liquid flavours are available and that vaping can be done indoors and in public.

The majority of vapers are aged between 35 to 49 (8.1%) while adults aged 60 and over were least likely to use e-cigarettes (4.1%). There is no significant difference in rates of e-cig use between gender or social classes. E cigarette usage among adults who had never smoked and children remain very low.

Not part of the 2.8 million vapers? Why not browse our New Vapers guide for advice on switching from smoking to vaping, how to buy your first e-cigarette and more.

Which groups are still smoking?

Although smoking rates are falling rapidly and quit attempts are becoming more and more successful, some groups still have high rates of smoking. Cigarette use in 18 to 24 year olds has fallen dramatically and the amount of people aged 16 to 24 who start smoking has also fallen. But in the 25 to 34 age group, 1.4 million still smoke - that's roughly 1 in every 5. This group has the highest prevalence of smoking.

There are other group differences, too:

  • Workers at manual jobs are more likely to smoke than those in managerial or professional jobs (1 in 4 vs. 1 in 10)
  • Unemployed people are nearly twice as likely to smoke than those in employment
  • Married adults are least likely to be smokers, while cohabiting adults are most likely (9% vs. 21%)
  • Men are more likely to smoke than women (16.4% vs. 12.6%)
  • Those with no formal educational qualifications are more likely to be smokers than those with degrees (29% vs. 7%)
  • Kingston Upon Hull and Lincoln had the highest smoking prevalence compared to Rushcliffe (26% vs. 4%)
  • Adults of Mixed, White and Other ethnicities were more likely to be current smokers than those of Black, Asian or Chinese backgrounds
  • Gender plays a role within ethnicity: for example, Asian men are more likely to smoke than Asian women (14.8% vs. 3.3%)

Do smokers want to quit smoking?

62% of people who reported that they have ever smoked have successfully quit. That's 11.8 million successful quitters!

Nearly 60% of all smokers say that they would like to give up smoking, and 1 in 5 smokers say that they plan to quit smoking in the next three months. It might seem strange, but one key measure of addiction is whether a person has their first cigarette within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. Smokers who plan to quit are significantly less likely to have their first cigarette within 30 minutes of waking up - which means they have a better chance of quitting successfully.

What are England's quit-smoking goals?

The NHS has a target of a 5% smoking rate. Public Health England has reducing smoking as one of their top priorities, and in 2017 the government published their Tobacco Control Plan for England with aims such as reducing the number of 15 year olds who regularly smoke and reducing the rate of smoking in pregnancy

These goals may seem optimistic but the tide is turning - the public perception and attitude towards smoking has changed. 24% of children said that is was fine to try a cigarette to see what it was like. This is down from a nearly 50% in 2003. Younger children were less likely to agree: only 5% of 11-year-olds compared with 47% of 15-year-olds.

The number of people setting a quit date with the NHS fell 11% in the last year - but this reduction may be due to the increased availability of e-cigarettes which are now the number 1 quit smoking method. However, for those who did set a quit rate, the rate of success was 51%. When last year's smoking prevalence data made media headlines, a massive 10% of smokers made a quit attempt that month.

For the full report: Statistics on Smoking, England - 2019

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