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Is the UK likely to become a smoke-free nation?

1st November 2017 Print

Public Health England’s annual Stoptober campaign is here, encouraging smokers to quit for 28 days with the mindset to stop all together. Nicotinell, a manufacturer of various stop smoking products, investigates how close the UK is to becoming an entirely smoke-free nation:

Smoking statistics in the UK

Figures show that the number of smokers in the UK is falling. According to the NHS’s Statistics on Smoking for England covering the year of 2017 so far, 15.5% of adults in England are smokers. This is down from 19.9% who smoked in 20% and 16.9% on data recorded in 2015. 

This fall in percentage of smokers is similar across all age groups who are legally able to smoke. The percentage point change between 2010 and 2016 for those aged 18-24 was more than -6 points, with 25-34 year olds experiencing a percentage point change of over -4 points. The trend continued into older adults too – those aged 35-44 recorded a change of over -4 points and those aged 45-54, 55-64 and 65+ all experiencing a percentage point change of over -2 points respectively. 

Unfortunately, there are still smokers who are doing so illegally. However, the percentage of secondary school pupils who reported that they had tried smoking at least once, currently sits at the lowest level of smoking prevalence since such a survey began in 1982 — 18 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion of secondary school pupils who thought it was fine to try smoking sat at 26 per cent in 2015; it was as high as 54 per cent in 1999.

Looking at the UK as a nation, it appears that the proportion of current smokers had fallen across all age groups: 

- The proportion of current smokers aged 18-24 has fallen from 25.8 per cent in 2010 to 19.3 per cent in 2016.

- The proportion of current smokers aged 25-34 has fallen from 25.9 per cent in 2010 to 20.8 per cent in 2016.

- The proportion of current smokers aged 35-44 has fallen from 22.4 per cent in 2010 to 18.1 per cent in 2016.

- The proportion of current smokers aged 45-54 has fallen from 20.6 per cent in 2010 to 17.3 per cent in 2016.

- The proportion of current smokers aged 55-64 has fallen from 18.3 per cent in 2010 to 15.1 per cent in 2016.

- The proportion of current smokers aged 65+ has fallen from 11.0 per cent in 2010 to 8.3 per cent in 2016.

Although there are still many smokers in the UK, it appears that they are purchasing less cigarettes than in the 1970s. This is because men aged 16+ consumed on average 18.4 cigarettes a day and women aged 16+ consumed on average 13.7 cigarettes a day in 1974, compared to 12 and 11 cigarettes a day on average respectively in 2016.

The cigarette market as a whole could be playing a part in the falling figures noted above. It’s important to point out, for instance, that the releases of cigarettes for home consumption have fallen over the past couple of decades. The NHS’s Statistics on Smoking for England report found that there were around 30 billion individual cigarettes released across the UK in 2016. This number is 64 per cent less than the number released in 1996, and even down by a significant five per cent when compared to 2015’s statistics.

It is likely that the rising price of tobacco has also played a part. Prices have jumped up 90% from 2006 to 2016 and has risen 43% relative to retail prices in the same period of time that real households’ disposable income (adjusted) has increased by only 4%. This means that tobacco was 27% less affordable in 2016 than it was in 2006. 

Further actions to encourage smokers to quit

In 2016, the highest proportion of smokers who had quit was recorded at 60.6% by the Office for National Statistics’ Adult Smoking Habits. In addition to this, 51% of people who had set a quit date through an NHS Stop Smoking Service had been successful. 1.2 million items had been prescribed by NHS Stop Smoking Services to help people with their goal to quit smoking, and 2.5 million smokers had made a quit attempt in 2015 – it’s clear that there’s plenty of effort being made to make the UK a smoke-free nation.

The implementation of various laws has also assisted in the UK’s road to becoming a smoke-free nation. Laws such as smoking being banned in enclosed public places in 2007 to it being illegal since October 2015 to smoke in a vehicle when someone under 18 years old is present. There are also some laws that have been implemented recently or are to be enforced in the near future: 

- From May 21st 2017, it became against the law for shops to sell old-style branded cigarette packs — all of these must now be styled in a colour that the government has labelled ‘drab dark brown’ and with no logos, promotional images or indications of the flavour of the cigarettes present.

- Also from May 21st 2017, all cigarette packs must contain at least 20 cigarettes — the cheaper packs of 10 have therefore been withdrawn from the UK market.

- As of May 20th 2020, all flavoured cigarettes will be banned from being sold in the UK — this covers flavours such as menthols and included pre-produced cigarettes.