In Brief

How many people still smoke in the UK?

New figures show smoking rates starting to climb among teenagers from poorer communities

The introduction of the smoking ban more than a decade ago and the advent of e-cigarettes have had a major effect on the traditional tobacco industry in Britain.

Yet despite these measures, and widespread knowledge about the health risks associated with smoking, the habit is far from being stubbed out, in the UK and further afield.

“There are over a billion smokers across the world – a habit which causes more than seven million deaths per year,” says Jasmine Khouja, an experimental psychology researcher at Bristol University, in an article on The Conversation. “We have known that smoking kills for decades, but this simple fact has not been enough to persuade every smoker to quit.”

So what are smoking rates in the UK today?

“Cigarette smoking prevalence among adults (aged 16 and over) in Great Britain has decreased since the early 1970s,” Cancer Research UK reports.

Newly released figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around 7.2 million people, or 14.7% of the UK population aged 18 years and above, smoked cigarettes in 2018. This marks a decline of more than 5% since 2011.

England had the lowest percentage of smokers at 14.4%, while Scotland had the highest at 16.3%. The percentages in Wales and Northern Ireland were 15.9% and 15.5% respectively.

Across the UK, a higher percentage of men (16.5%) smoked than women (13%), and smoking rates were highest among people aged 25 to 34 years old  (19.2%). The ONS found that people in manual jobs were 2.5 times more likely to light up than those in managerial and professional occupations, while the proportion of smokers with no qualifications was four times higher than those with a degree.

Meanwhile 6.3% of people said they used e-cigarettes - about 3.2 million adults.

The statistics were released as campaigners in Wales called for more action to help young people stop smoking. A recent survey of thousands of Year 11 pupils by Cardiff University found that 9% smoked regularly - a figure that has not fallen since 2013-14, when the last such survey was carried out.

“We need more resources, we need more evidence-based action,” said Suzanne Cass, chief executive of anti-smoking charity Ash Wales.

“The proportion of those smoking regularly from the least affluent areas rose in the past four years (from 4% to 6%), while those from the most affluent communities stayed the same (3%),” notes the BBC.

“Public Health Wales (PHW) said it had a number of programmes aimed at tackling the problem and the percentage of ‘successfully treated smokers’ was rising.”

In England, figures from 2016 showed that 19% of pupils reported having tried smoking at least once, a similar proportion to 2014, while 6% said they were current smokers.

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