UK smoking rate nears record low
Fewer people than almost ever before are smoking in the UK, encouraging figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirm.
"While this is positive, it means that more than 9.3 million people still smoke. It’s also important to note that the rate of decline isn’t as big as in recent years" - George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK
The largely positive results come on the day the country imposed a ban on smoking in vehicles when a child is present - protecting millions from the many potentially cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
The headline figure to emerge from the ONS 2014 Integrated Household Survey is that the proportion of UK adults who smoked cigarettes fell by 2.7 per cent between 2010 and 2014 - from 21 per cent to 18.3 per cent.
Particularly encouraging is the fall of 3.6 per cent in 18-24-year-old smokers, taking this proportion down to 22.8 per cent and ending an historic trend of this youngest group being the most-likely smokers.
In 2014, men were more likely to be cigarette smokers than women (20.7 per cent to 15.9 per cent), while Scotland had the highest smoking rate in the UK at 20.3 per cent. The proportion of English smokers was 18 per cent, while those working in routine and manual occupations accounted for the highest rate (28.2 per cent).
Experts cautioned that while the better figures are to be welcomed, the fact a significant proportion of people still smoke means laws like the in-car ban still need to be imposed.
George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, said: “These encouraging figures show smoking rates are moving in the right direction, falling to one of the lowest rates on record. But while this is positive, it means that more than 9.3 million people still smoke. It’s also important to note that the rate of decline isn’t as big as in recent years.
“Smoking is a lethal addiction that causes 14 types of cancer. Without an ongoing effort to stop young people from starting, and helping smokers to quit, the progress that’s been made won’t continue, or worse, will be reversed.”
The in-car ban, imposed from Thursday October 1, means the driver and any smoker will be fined £50 if caught smoking with an under-18 in the car, although an initial ‘grace period’ of leniency from police forces is expected.
Children are more susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoke – 80 per cent of which is invisible - as they breathe more frequently than adults and their respiratory systems and immune systems are still developing.
Experts think three million children are exposed to it, putting them at risk of serious conditions.
George Butterworth added: “Making it illegal to smoke in cars with children will help protect them from the hundreds of lethal chemicals - around 70 of which cause cancer - found in cigarette smoke.
“This, along with the ban on adults buying tobacco for young people, is a further step towards keeping children out of harm’s way. Tobacco is a lethal, addictive product that will kill up to two thirds of long term smokers.
“Ultimately, these laws are about saving lives. 100,000 people die every year from a tobacco related illness - equivalent to the population of a city the size of Bath. Cancer Research UK wants to see smoking rates come down to five per cent from the existing 18.3 per cent in the next 20 years.
"The next important step in achieving this will be the removal of slickly designed and brightly coloured tobacco packaging. Next year these will be replaced with packs of uniform size, shape and design with large picture warnings on the front and back. Cancer Research UK is committed to the next generation of children being free from the death and disease caused by tobacco.”