Smoking rates hit record low

The proportion of adults in England who smoke has fallen to just over 15 per cent, according to a report from NHS Digital, ONS and PHE, down from just below 20 per cent at the start of the decade. The largest fall – from 26 per cent to 19 per cent – was among 18 to 24-year-olds, says Statistics on smoking, England 2017.

The number of hospital admissions attributable to smoking has increased, however, from 458,000 in 2005-06 to 474,000 in 2015-16, although it has fallen as a proportion of all admissions from 6 per cent to 4 per cent. The highest estimated admission rates were in Barnsley, Blackpool, Hartlepool and Sunderland, while the highest estimated rate of smoking-related deaths was in Manchester.

Sixteen per cent of all deaths in England in 2015 were estimated to be attributable to smoking, at 79,000, while just under 11 per cent of women giving birth in 2016-17 were recorded as smokers at the time of delivery. Tobacco is now 27 per cent less affordable than it was in 2006, the document adds.

Anti-smoking charity ASH said that while the drop in smoking rates was ‘great news’, smoking remained the leading cause of preventable death and was responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. ‘One in two lifetime smokers will die from smoking-related disease, so a fall in smoking rates of this scale will save many thousands of lives in years to come,’ said chief executive Deborah Arnott.

‘This proves that tobacco control policies work, when they are part of a comprehensive strategy and are properly funded. But we must not stop now. Every day since the last tobacco control plan expired on 31 December 2015, hundreds of under-16s have started smoking.’

Earlier this year, more than 1,000 doctors and other health professionals signed an open letter to prime minister Theresa May and health secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for a new tobacco control plan to be published ‘without further delay’ (DDN, February, page 5). Next month also marks the tenth anniversary of the implementation of smoke-free legislation in England, added Arnott, ‘a worthy date for publication of the next tobacco control plan, with a commitment to delivering a smoke-free future for our children’.

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