Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that smoking rates have continued to fall in Great Britain, and smokers now consume fewer cigarettes per day.
In the mid-1970s, just under half of British adults smoked, and mean consumption was almost 17 cigarettes a day per smoker. Data just released by the Office for National Statistics shows that in 2014, only 19% of adults smoked, and their average consumption was 11.4 cigarettes a day.
Although smoking is still more prevalent in the youngest adults, the chart below, taken from the ONS report, shows a fall in the proportion of every age group who were current smokers since 2000.
Although many smokers quit, the change in current smoking rates is largely due to an increase in the proportion of adults who have never smoked. This has increased from 50% in 2000 to 59% in 2014, with a slight increase in never-smokers in all age groups.
The relationship between smoking and affordability is a complex one, however. As the ONS report shows, smoking remains more prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups, adults with lower educational achievements, and in those with lower annual incomes – in other words, those adults with least disposable income. This all suggests that tax duty will need to remain high for smoking rates to stay low (and that the recent trends in smoking rates could be reversed if tax levies are cut) but that there is likely to be a core group of smokers who will never be moved to quit by cost alone.
The use of e-cigarettes may also be contributing to the decline in smoking, but the evidence is still very unclear about how much impact this will have on smoking in the future. The ONS report shows that, although 15% of adults in Great Britain in 2014 had tried e-cigarettes, only 4% were current users, and smokers were more likely than ex-smokers or never-smokers to have either tried e-cigarettes, or to be current users.
Of note, 24% of adults aged 16 to 24 and 22% of those aged 25 to 34 had tried e-cigarettes at least once, compared with 15-16% of those aged 35 to 54. Yet only 1% of 16-24 year olds were current users, compared with 5% in each of the 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 year age groups. This fits with the ONS report findings that 59% of e-cigarette users vape as an aid to stopping smoking, and 21% use them as they perceive the health risks to be lower than smoking tobacco. Although some never-smokers have tried e-cigarettes – 2% of women and 3% of men surveyed in the ONS report – and 1-2% had been users, none were current users, suggesting that the risks of creating nicotine dependence in non-smokers are low.