The Number of Adult Smokers: Measuring Smoking Rates

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March 2013
• • • • • • • Number of adult smokers Measuring smoking rates Cigarette smoking and age Number of secondary school children who smoke Cigarette smoking and socio-economic group Tobacco consumption Dependence on smoking

who smokes and how much

Smoking statistics:

Number The highest recorded level of smoking among men in Great Britain was of adult 82% in 1948, of which 65% smoked manufactured cigarettes. At that time, smokers significant numbers of men smoked pipes or cigars as well as, or instead

of, manufactured cigarettes. By contrast, women have tended to smoke only cigarettes. Smoking prevalence among women in 1948 was 41% and remained fairly constant until the early 1970’s, peaking at 45% in the mid 1960’s.1 Overall prevalence among adults (aged 16 and over) fell steadily between the mid 1970s and early 1980s. After 1982, the rate of decline slowed, with prevalence falling to about one percentage point every two years until the early 1990’s when it levelled out. Since 2000 overall adult smoking rates had been declining by around 0.4% per annum.2 Between 2007 and 2009, overall smoking prevalence among adults in Great Britain remained the same at 21%, dropping to 20% in 2011 (21% of men and 19% of women).

ASH Fact Sheet on: Smoking statistics

Planned review date: March 2014

There are about 10 million adult cigarette smokers in Great Britain and about the same number of ex-smokers. Since 1990 there has been a steady increase in the number of smokers using mainly hand-rolled tobacco. In 1990, 18% of male smokers and 2% of female smokers said they smoked mainly hand-rolled cigarettes but by 2011 this had risen to 40% and 26% respectively.

Measuring smoking rates

Periodically the Government sets targets to reduce smoking prevalence in the population. In the 1998 White Paper ‘Smoking kills’ the Government set a target to reduce adult smoking rates to 21% or less by 2010, with a reduction in prevalence among routine and manual groups to 26% or less.3 The latest national survey shows that the target for the general population has been achieved but not that for lower socio-economic groups (28% in 2011). In its strategy paper launched on 1 February 2010 the Labour Government set new targets to reduce smoking among the general population to 10% of adults and to 1% or less among children by 2020.4 In March 2011 the Coalition Government launched its Tobacco Control Plan for England in which it set out ambitions to reduce adult smoking prevalence to 18.5% or less by 2015 and to reduce smoking among young people to 12% or less by 2015.5

Cigarette smoking and age

Smoking prevalence is highest in the 20-24 age group among both women (28%) and men (30%). Between 2010 and 2011, smoking among men in this age group increased from 25% to 30%, while in other age groups the rate fell or remained the same for both men and women. Smoking continues to be lowest among people aged 60 and over. Although they are more likely than younger people to have ever been smokers, they are more likely to have stopped smoking. Cigarette smoking by age – percentage of adult population Age % 16-19 20-24 25-34 35-49 50-59 60+ 1978 34 44 45 45 45 30 1988 26 37 36 36 33 23 1998 31 40 35 31 28 16 2008 22 30 27 24 22 13 2009 24 26 25 25 21 14 2010 19 27 26 24 20 13 2011 18 29 23 24 19 13

Number of secondary school children in England who smoke

Very few children are smokers when they start secondary school: among 11 year olds only 1% are regular smokers. The likelihood of smoking increases with age so that by 15 years of age 11% of pupils are regular smokers. Overall, the prevalence of regular smoking among children aged 11-15 remained stable at between 9 and 11 per cent from 1998 until 2006. However, in 2007 there was a fall in overall prevalence from 9% to 6%, the lowest rate recorded since surveys of pupils’ smoking began in 1982. The downward trend has continued: in 2011 overall prevalence was 5% and among 15 year...
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