Smokers in England ‘less motivated to try to quit’ – study

Smokers appear to have become less addicted to cigarettes but less motivated to try to kick the habit, according to a decade-long study.

Fewer cigarettes were smoked daily in 2017 compared with 2008, and the number of people smoking within an hour of waking up dropped, researchers at University College London (UCL) found.

The analysis of 41,610 smokers in England found that fewer people were smoking every day at the end of the 10-year period.

However, the proportion trying to cut down on how much they smoke or quit altogether both declined.

The study’s lead author, Dr Claire Garnett, from UCL’s Department of Behavioural Science & Health, said: “The decline in the proportion of smokers trying to quit or cut down is a worrying trend and may reflect budget cuts on tobacco control, including mass media expenditure and stop-smoking services.

“These are known to be effective and it is a false economy to be cutting back on these.”

Since 2017, when the smoking ban in enclosed public places was introduced, smoking in England has decreased from 21.1% in 2008 to 14.9% in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The UCL study found smokers in 2017 smoked an average of 10.9 cigarettes a day compared with 13.6 in 2008.

Some 13.4% of smokers did not smoke every day in 2017, up from 9.1% at the start of the 10-year period.

This contradicts the “hardening” theory – that as smoking rates fall, levels of cigarette dependence would increase.

The authors said: “Lower levels of cigarette dependence consistently predict greater quit success, suggesting that there is the potential to further reduce smoking prevalence in the English population.”

However, while over a third (37%) of smokers had tried to stop smoking in the past year when surveyed in 2008, this dropped to 29.9% in 2017.

And the proportion trying to cut down how much they smoke has declined from 56.1% to 47.9% over the same period.

Of those who tried to quit, fewer used behavioural support and more used pharmacological support, such as e-cigarettes.

The study found that stop smoking campaigns have been equally successful across society, but more needs to be done to lower the high proportion of people from low paid and manual occupation groups who smoke.

The authors write: “Access to stop smoking services is an important factor that determines whether smokers attempt to cut down or quit smoking.

“Access to services has decreased due to recent budget cuts in approximately half of local authorities.

“This is particularly concerning, as these services successfully reach disadvantaged smokers and the percentage of current smokers of low social grade has remained disproportionally high (61.7% in 2008 and 61.6% in 2017) even as smoking prevalence has fallen.”

Kruti Shrotri, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control manager, said: “It’s concerning that smokers are now less motivated to quit than a decade ago.

“Mass media campaigns such as Stoptober and January Health Harms are vital in encouraging people to quit smoking but have seen significant budget cuts in recent years.

“The Government must invest more in these health campaigns to save lives from cancers that could have been prevented.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Smoking rates are at the lowest rates since records began – robust Government action including plain packaging and awareness campaigns are driving us towards our ambition to be a smoke-free society by 2030.

“Prevention remains at the heart of our Long Term Plan for the NHS, and we are supporting local authorities with £3 billion funding this financial year to spend on public health services, including stop-smoking services.”

The study is published in the journal Addiction.