Last year, 13.3 per cent of UK adults were current smokers, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report, down from 14 per cent in 2020 and the lowest proportion since records began. Scotland had the highest proportion at 14.8 per cent, while the lowest was in England at 13 per cent.
There are currently around 6.6m smokers in the UK, says ONS. Just over 15 per cent of men are current smokers compared to 11.5 per cent of women, consistent with previous years. The highest proportion of current smokers is in the 25-34 age range at 15.8 per cent, and the lowest the over-65s at 8 per cent. The decrease in smoking rates may be partly explained by an increase in vaping and e-cigarette use, says ONS, with the highest vaping rates among 16 to 24-year-olds. While 6.4 per cent of over-16s reported vaping in 2020, by last year this had risen to 7.7 per cent.
However, anti-smoking charity ASH has warned that without renewed action the government is still likely to miss its ‘smokefree’ England target in 2030, defined as fewer than 5 per cent of the population still smoking. Last month the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health called for an immediate windfall tax on tobacco companies, along with an additional ‘polluter pays’ levy to help pay for the ‘shortfall in funding for tobacco control and public health’ (DDN, December/January, page 4).
‘Smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable illness and death so the progress shown today is great news,’ said ASH deputy chief executive Hazel Cheeseman. ‘But government must not be complacent. They first promised to publish a new tobacco control plan for England in 2021 but we still have seen no plan for how they will meet that goal. Without one we will not meet the vision of being smokefree by 2030.’