Number of smokers continues to fall across England

There are now 1.8 million fewer adult smokers in England than seven years ago, data shows.

New figures analysed by NHS Digital show 5.9 million people smoked cigarettes in 2018 (14.4% of the population), down from 7.7 million in 2011 (19.8%).

Throughout the UK, 14.7% of adults smoke, with England enjoying the lowest prevalence among constituent countries.

Scotland has the highest at 16.3%, followed by 15.9% in Wales and 15.5% in Northern Ireland.

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In 2018, adults aged 25 to 34 were the most likely to smoke (19%), while those aged 65 and over were the least likely to smoke (8%).

In 2016, 6% of school pupils aged between 11 and 15 reported they were current smokers, down from 22% in 1996, the report also showed.

Just over one in 10 pregnant women still smoke, down from 15% almost a decade earlier.

Meanwhile, e-cigarette use continues to rise, with 6.3% of adults vaping in 2018, up from 5.5% the previous year. Just over half (51.5%) of those vaping said it was to help them quit smoking.

Adults aged 35 to 49 were most likely to use e-cigarettes (8.1%), while adults aged 60 and over were the least likely (4.1%).

A quarter of pupils (25%) reported ever having tried e-cigarettes in 2016, an increase from 22% in 2014, the report showed.

The data also found a slight rise in hospital admissions due to smoking illnesses, standing at 489,300 admissions in 2017/18, an increase of 1% on 2016/17.

And an estimated 77,800 people died from smoking in 2017, similar to the year before but down 6% on 2007 figures.

Dr Caitlin Notley, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said the figures meant “improved health outcomes for individuals and their families”.

She added: “In recent years, hidden point of sales displays, plain packaging, and a harm reduction approach encouraging smokers to switch to vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking, have all no doubt played important roles in our declining rates of tobacco smoking.

“In England, our public health approach is really world-leading in supporting people to quit smoking and choose less harmful alternatives, and this is something we should be proud of, as the efforts are reflected in the falling numbers of smokers.

“However there is still lots to be done to meet the national ambition of reducing smoking prevalence to 12% or less.

“Rates of smoking remain much higher in some populations; particularly those with poor mental health and people in our society who are less well-off are much more likely to be smokers.”

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, welcomed the data but said there were still “millions of smokers who aren’t accessing vital NHS stop smoking support, which we know can make all the difference in quitting”.

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “This is really positive news in the battle against the nation’s biggest killer.

“Smoking in England is in terminal decline, with the lowest number of smokers ever and a smoke-free generation now in sight.

“Unfortunately smoking rates remain high amongst people on lower incomes and those experiencing mental health problems, and every effort and means to support them quitting is where we need to most focus.”