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Fall in smoking rate slows, prevalence of vaping falls

The Office for National Statistics has published the latest figures for adult smoking habits in the UK.

According to the ONS:

  • 15.1 per cent of Britons – or around 7.4 million people – were smokers in 2017 compared to 15.8 per cent in 2016.
  • The rate of smoking was higher in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK – 14.9 per cent of adults in England smoked; for Wales, this figure was 16.1 per cent; Scotland, 16.3 per cent and Northern Ireland, 16.5 per cent.
  • Across the whole of Britain more men than women are smokers – in 2017, 17 per cent of men smoked compared with 13.3 per cent of women.
  • Smoking rates were highest among people aged 25 to 34 with almost one in five (19.7 per cent) of people in this age group classing themselves as current smokers.

See Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2017 (Office for National Statistics).

Interestingly, the figures are being spun to emphasis the decline in smoking rates over the last five years or longer:

According to Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England: “Smoking rates have dropped by almost a quarter in five years, a triumphant step in eliminating the nation’s biggest killer.

Echoing Selbie, Chris Smyth, health editor of The Times, tweeted:

"More than two million fewer people smoke than in 2011 – rates down by more than a quarter. Pretty striking public health success."

Take a closer look at the stats for smoking however and it's clear that while there was a significant fall in smoking rates between 2014-15 (1.8 per cent) and 2015-16 (1.4 per cent) the latest drop was only half that (0.7 per cent).

Adult Smoking Habits in the UK (2013-2017)

2013 – 19.0% (20.0% men, 17.0% women)
2014 – 19.0% (20.0% men, 17.0% women)
2015 – 17.2% (19.3% men, 15.3% women)
2016 – 15.8% (17.7% men, 14.1% women)
2017 – 15.1% (17.0% men, 13.3% women)

Meanwhile, what of e-cigarettes? The ONS only started publishing figures in 2015 and here they are:

Use of e-cigarettes in Great Britain (2015-2017)

2015 – 4.0% (2.3 million)
2016 – 5.6% (2.9 million)
2017 – 5.5% (2.8 million)

Significantly the latest report shows that while 5.5 per cent of adults (2.8 million) use e-cigarettes, that represents a slight dip from 2016 when the figure stood at 5.6 per cent (2.9 million).

What this suggests is that not only is the number of smokers switching to e-cigarettes flatlining, some vapers are quitting nicotine altogether, as most 'public health' advocates of vaping hoped they would.

Anyway, here is Forest's response to the ONS figures on smoking:

“Far from being a public health success story, the recent decline in smoking rates represent a victory for the bully state.

“Instead of focussing on education, successive governments have chosen to denormalise a legitimate habit. Punitive taxation and smoking bans discriminate against millions of ordinary decent people.

“Despite this a significant number of adults continue to smoke because they enjoy it. Government must respect their choice and stop harassing them to quit.”

Update: According to the ONS, 60.8 percent of people aged 16 years and above who currently smoke said they wanted to quit, based on estimates from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.

This is significantly fewer than the 70 per cent we are repeatedly told would like to quit, so what’s happening?

My guess is that, as the number of smokers continues to drop, the percentage who wish to quit will also continue to fall for the simple reason that we are slowly edging into hardcore smoker territory.

Truth is, there will always be people who enjoy smoking and don’t want to stop and, like it or not, the government (and others) must accept it and respect those who make that choice.

Update: Forest's response was reported by the Guardian here – Britain is winning the war on tobacco, health chief insists.

It was also picked up by the Press Association – Young adults shunning smoking, figures suggest.

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Reader Comments (3)

I hate the use of "hardcore" to describe smokers who enjoy smoking and won't quit. It is the language associated with hard drug users such as hardcore heroin addicts. I much prefer "committed." Hardcore is used by smokerphobics to describe legitimate tobacco consumers and its use is designed to promote the "pathetic addict not in control of their choices" idea. We must claim the language used against us and designed by the antismoker industry and not use what is offensive or unnacceptable. After all, we don't call gay people poofs anymore - a derogatory term used by homophobics and rightly no longer acceptable.

I also hate the term "smoke free" because of all the implications loaded in it that both smokers and non smokers are prisoners to the addiction of tobacco and the alleged selfishness of smokers.

Smoke free really means exclusion of smokers because, after all, where there is smoke there is a person on the end of the cigarette. I thought as a society that we decided no one should be excluded and everyone should have a place somewhere.

As for the figures on smoking rates, I think they should always be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, who do they ask? Do they take account of those who never admit to officials that they smoke? Do they add up black market sales or cross border sales? I think it is yet more propaganda designed to "otherise" smokers a bit more and make those still smoking a bit more marginalised.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 20:29 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Well, it looks like 'plain packages' failed in the UK just as they did in Australia. It is unbelievable that the tobacco control grifters still get funded despite their pattern and practice of lies.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 23:40 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

I’m always a bit suspicious when I read these statistics, and not just because of the trickery that you point out Simon, but I do wonder whether they take into account those people who, when asked, vehemently deny that they smoke, not because they don’t, but because (a) they don’t want the obligatory lecture and offer of unwelcome “help,” and (b) because they don’t want the doctor to be distracted from ascertaining the real cause of their illness by gleefully grasping onto the automatic “smoking caused it” diagnosis, thus possibly missing the vital real reason. Trust in our medical profession is now at an all-time low – not just amongst smokers, but amongst anyone else who is now being lambasted for their own personal indulgences (drinkers and food-lovers, anyone?). I wonder how long it’ll be before the medical health profession realise the damage that they themselves have inflicted on the once-sacrosanct doctor-patient relationship?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018 at 2:14 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

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