Health & Studies

ONS Updates Smoking and Vaping Knowledge

The Office for National Statistics has published fresh official Government estimates for the rate of smoking and vaping in Great Britain

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published fresh official Government estimates for the rate of smoking and vaping in Great Britain. The latest information shows an ongoing decline in the number of smokers but some commentators are concerned that teen vaping has increased again. Other experts welcome the news as it shows vaping is not a gateway into smoking.

The Main points reported by the ONS:

  • In the UK population in 2022, 12.9% of people aged 18 years and over, or around 6.4 million people, smoked cigarettes; this is the lowest proportion of current smokers since records began in 2011 based on our estimates from the Annual Population Survey (APS).
  • Of the constituent countries, the lowest proportion of current smokers was in England (12.7%); Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland reported 14.1%, 14.0% and 13.9%, respectively.
  • In the UK, 14.6% of men smoked compared with 11.2% of women; this difference has been consistent since 2011.
  • People aged 25 to 34 years had the highest proportion of current smokers in the UK (16.3%); those aged 65 years and over had the lowest (8.3%) in 2022.
  • In Great Britain, 8.7% of Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) respondents, or around 4.5 million adults, said they currently used an e-cigarette daily or occasionally; this is an increase from 2021 where 7.7% of people reported daily or occasional e-cigarette use.
  • E-cigarette use was highest among those aged 16 to 24 years in Great Britain; the percentage of people in this age group who were daily or occasional vapers in 2022 has increased to 15.5% compared with 11.1% in 2021.
  • Changes in e-cigarette usage are particularly evident in younger females, with a statistically significant increase in the proportion of women aged 16 to 24 years who were daily e-cigarette users in 2022 (6.7%), compared with 2021 (1.9%).

Action on Smoking and Health’s Chief Executive Deborah Arnott commented that the results display “slow progress on smoking” by the government.

Arnott added: “Today’s figures are a wake-up call. Smoking rates are falling, but not nearly fast enough to deliver on the Government’s ambition of 5% or less by 2030. Financial stress and poor mental health are on the rise, which we know makes it harder for smokers to quit. Initiatives like ‘Swap to Stop’ are helpful but they’re nowhere near enough.

“The Government must step up its support to smokers, for example by reinvesting in the vital campaigns to motivate smokers to quit and discourage youth uptake which have been cut to the bone in recent years.”

Speaking about teen vaping in particular, she said: “The growth in vaping among adult smokers and ex-smokers is welcome as vaping is a very successful aid to quitting smoking. However, like the ASH surveys the ONS data show a worrying growth in vaping among teens and young adults. The Government’s response to the consultation on youth vaping due imminently must contain concrete measures to prohibit child-friendly branding, and put products out of sight and out of reach in shops, as well as a tax on the pocket money priced disposable vapes most popular with children.”

Professor Peter Hajek, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Health and Lifestyle Research Unit, Queen Mary University of London, preferred to be more positive, saying: “This is good news, and it puts to rest the often-repeated concern that use of e-cigarettes promotes smoking. E-cigarettes are not only helping smokers quit, but they also deflect potential smokers away from cigarettes. Low-risk nicotine products are the best tool we ever had for getting finally rid of smoking-related cancers, heart and lung disease.”

Trade body The UK Vaping Industry Association also welcomed the findings. It commented: “The UKVIA welcomes a further reduction in the number of smokers in the UK, the lowest proportion of the population since records began in 2011. It is no surprise that it coincides with an increase in the use of vape products amongst smokers, as vaping is proven to be the most effective way for smokers to quit.

“We hope this trend continues, with vaping helping the UK to achieve our smokefree target by 2030, reducing the shocking number of deaths from smoking, currently 250 every day, as well as reducing the huge financial burden on the NHS, who estimate the cost at around £2.6bn every year.

“These numbers also show more needs to be done to prevent young people accessing vapes; the UKVIA has been calling for tougher penalties for retailers who illegally sell to under 18s and a retail registration scheme to ensure stronger governance. UK Government has announced some measures to police illegal sales better, but we will continue to advocate a stronger approach to protect children.”

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Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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