Turning the tide on tobacco: Smoking in England hits a new low

New official statistics published today show smoking prevalence in England has dipped just below 15% for the first time. That makes 6.1 million smokers in England, one million fewer than in 2014.

While there rightly seems to be an ever increasing focus on obesity and the nation’s eating habits we can’t forget that smoking remains the nation’s biggest killer. We’ve been tackling the devastating harm tobacco causes for decades and today, we’re one step closer to the job being done.

Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2017 published today by PHE and ONS shows that smoking prevalence in England has fallen to 14.9%. This means rates are down by almost a quarter from 19.3% five years ago  -bringing the estimated number of smokers in England to 6.1 million.

Who’s still smoking?

Despite efforts to reduce inequalities, there are still groups where smoking rates remain stubbornly high. Smoking among 18 to 24 year olds has fallen fastest but of particular concern is the 1.4 million 25-34 year olds who smoke – that’s equivalent to one in five.

We are also seeing an ever widening gap between people in routine and manual occupations and those in managerial and professional posts:

  • 1 in 4 people in routine and manual occupations is a smoker compared to 1 in 10 in managerial and professional posts
  • The odds of smoking in the routine and manual group is more than twice that of other employed groups
  • People who are unemployed are almost twice as likely to smoke as those in work

In addition, those who have no qualifications are four times as likely to smoke as those who have a degree but ethnically, the picture is complex. The highest rates are among those born in Poland (27.4%) and those of mixed race (20.5%). Over 21% of Muslim men and less than 4% of Muslim women smoke. The lowest rates are among those born in India (5%) and those of Chinese origin (8.6%).

The large sample in the Annual Population Survey (APS) also allows fairly confident estimates of local smoking rates. Blackpool, Hastings and Kingston upon Hull continue to be among the highest smoking areas with around 22-23% of adults smoking. That is well over three times as high as in Chilton.

Figure 2: Smoking prevalence by Upper Tier LA

To find out what your local smoking rate is, how it compares with the rest of your region and how the impact it has on local health and services you can visit the Local Tobacco Profiles for England website where all the latest data is available now.

Is there still an appetite to quit?

Also published today are data from the Opinion and Lifestyles Survey (OPN). Back when the predecessor to OPN began smoking rates were at 45%, three times higher than they are today. Now, 60% of those who report that they have ever smoked have quit. A staggering 11 million people.

The survey also gives us important information about smoker behaviours and intentions. Sixty per cent of smokers say they intend to quit and more than 1 in 8 report that they plan to quit in the next three months. These smokers are significantly less likely to have their first cigarette in the first 30 minutes after waking up, which is a key measure of tobacco addiction, giving them a better chance of quitting successfully.

Are e-cigarettes still contributing to the declines?

The number of vapers in England appears to have levelled off at just under 2.5 million. Most (51%) have stopped smoking and of the 45% who still smoke, half say that they are vaping in order to stop smoking. What is more, the number who have quit both smoking and quit vaping has reached 770,000.

Overall, this suggests that there are:

  • 600,000 smokers who vape with no plan to quit smoking;
  • 600,000 who are vaping as a means to quit;
  • 1.2 million vapers who have now quit smoking;
  • and over three quarters of a million who have quit both.

What’s also interesting is that vaping is far from being a youth phenomenon as feared by many and almost entirely confined to those who have smoked. The peak ages for vaping are now 25-34 (7.8%) and 35-49 (7.5%). Almost 1 in 8 ex-smokers vape compared with less than half a percent of those who have never smoked.


So how do we win the war against tobacco?

Although there are now 1 million fewer smokers than in 2014, there remain 6.1 million adults that are still subject to the devastating harm tobacco causes.

Reducing smoking is one of PHE’s key priorities and we continue to work day in and day out to support both government and local public health teams with a wide range of evidence, data and tools.

Last year’s tobacco control plan laid out the Government’s ambitions and the steps we’ll be taking to achieve a smokefree nation. But we know this requires a concerted effort to reach some of society’s most vulnerable people. We will only achieve our ambitions if we make more progress in helping people from deprived areas and people suffering from poor mental health. Let’s take the support to where these people are – coming through hospital doors on a daily basis.

NHS settings provide a great opportunity to engage with many of the harder to reach smokers.

Many longer term smokers will already be in poor health and be in regular contact with their GPs, the NHS and wider community health services. This will also be true for many people with mental health problems and pregnant women.

A smokefree NHS will support anyone using, visiting and working in the NHS to quit – helping us to reach that golden 5% target and a smokefree nation.


  1. Comment by Danny Wang - Taiwan Vape Association posted on

  2. Comment by Castello posted on

    What about Swedish Snus? Even safer than vaping but banned in most of the EU!? It is not a war on tobacco! How is that war on drugs going?

  3. Comment by Louise Ross posted on

    Well done England! Showing the way for the rest of the world

  4. Comment by Dr Michael C Watson posted on

    Re: E-cigarettes: relax rules to help more smokers quit, say MPs