Health & Studies

Research Shows Fewer Quitters

A study published in BMC Medicine looks at the decline in smoking in England since the pandemic, drawing comment from experts and the Independent British Vape Trade Association

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A study published in BMC Medicine looks at the decline in smoking in England since the pandemic, drawing comment from experts and the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA). The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) says that this is happening as new figures from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) show that smoking costs the UK around £50bn every year.

University College London’s Sarah Jackson, Harry Tattan-Birch, Lion Shahab, Emma Beard and Jamie Brown looked at data from 101,960 adults participating in the Smoking Toolkit Study, a monthly representative household survey, between June 2017 and August 2022. Interviews were conducted face-to-face until March 2020 and via telephone thereafter.

The team concluded that reductions in smoking prevalence among middle-aged adults and sustained increases in quit attempts and cessation among smokers during the COVID-19 pandemic have been offset by a sustained rise in uptake among young adults.

As a result, the rate of decline in adult smoking prevalence in England has stagnated,” they say.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Caitlin Notley, Professor of Addiction Sciences, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, said: “This is a concern. In this generation we have seen cuts in funding to public health anti-smoking campaigns, but intense media focus on other nicotine containing products such as e-cigarettes, and some alarmist reporting. Unfortunately, this may be contributing to inaccurate harm perceptions, such that approximately half of people who continue to smoke incorrectly believe vaping is at least as harmful as smoking. Young people may incorrectly believe smoking and vaping to be equivalent in harm.

“To drive down rates of tobacco smoking we must invest in public health campaigns to inform people accurately that vaping is an effective smoking cessation aid and substantially less harmful than smoking tobacco. New government proposals to increase funding for anti-smoking campaigns, increase the age of sale, and a pledge to make a million vape kits available to support people who smoke to switch, are welcome and needed to meet the smokefree 2030 target.”

 Dr Leonie Brose, Reader in Addiction Education and Nicotine Research, King’s College London, added: “When attempting to explain the reasons behind this increase, earlier findings from the same survey are useful. They showed that mental health, particularly in young adults, has deteriorated substantially. By the end of 2022, 20% of 18–24-year-olds reported a level of distress serious enough to suggest mental health treatment was needed. Poorer mental health is closely associated with increased smoking; addressing the causes of the high and increasing levels of poor mental health among young people is crucial and could also be expected to help reduce smoking prevalence.”

Speaking from an industry perspective, Marcus Saxton, chair of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, commented: “This important research from UCL shows that the Government’s smokefree ambition is stalling. The authors also rightly point to the media attention on vaping and the subsequent disconnect between the substantially greater risks from smoking. 43% of smokers believe that vaping is equally or more harmful than smoking, an increase of 60% since 2019. These are truly shocking figures, reflecting the never-ending cycle of negative stories on vaping, therefore it is of no surprise that smoking rates remain stubbornly high.

“The focus on vaping, particularly single use products that are important to quit attempts is driving this misperception. We welcome proportionate legislation, but these smoking figures show now is not the time to ban those vaping devices and flavours that are crucial to getting smokers to quit tobacco.

“There are clear challenges for the vaping sector but through a proportionate and evidence-based approach vaping can remain a vital smoking cessation tool and encourage those smokers to make that switch before it is too late.

The UK Vaping Industry Association pointed out: “New figures from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) show that smoking costs the UK around £50bn every year. This new assessment of smoking’s impact on the UK economy is much larger than previously thought and when compared to the £11.3bn tax take on cigarettes, shows that huge net cost to the country. Less easy to quantify of course is the emotional cost. Every day, hundreds of families up and down the country are grieving for loved ones, with around 76,000 people dying from smoking in the UK every year.

“With vaping proven to be the most effective way for smokers to quit, it is imperative that the Government doesn’t restrict their access to this literal lifeline. For every smoker who quits, it could mean a life saved and as these figures show, it also means a significant boost to the economy.”


  • ‘Have there been sustained impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic on trends in smoking prevalence, uptake, quitting, use of treatment, and relapse? A monthly population study in England, 2017–2022’ by Sarah E. Jackson et al. -

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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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