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ONS Data Reveals Further Drops

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics, released last week, shows smoking continues to decline and highlights action the government can take on supporting vaping

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS), the government’s official agency for assessing economic and social behaviour, released its latest bulletin on smoking. The New Nicotine Alliance said, “it made for interesting reading,” and the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) commented that this could be the time to reduce VAT on vape products.

Main highlights from the report:

  • In the UK, in 2019, 14.1% of people aged 18 years and above smoked cigarettes, which equates to around 6.9 million people in the population, based on our estimate from the Annual Population Survey (APS).
  • The proportion of current smokers in the UK has fallen significantly from 14.7% in 2018 to 14.1% in 2019.
  • Of the constituent countries, 13.9% of adults in England smoked, 15.5% of adults in Wales, 15.4% of adults in Scotland and 15.6% of adults in Northern Ireland.
  • In the UK, 15.9% of men smoked compared with 12.5% of women.
  • Those aged 25 to 34 years had the highest proportion of current smokers (19.0%).
  • In the UK, around 1 in 4 (23.4%) people in routine and manual occupations smoked, this is around 2.5 times higher than people in managerial and professional occupations (9.3%).
  • In Great Britain, more than half (52.7%) of people aged 16 years and above who currently smoked said they wanted to quit, and 62.5% of those who have ever smoked said they had quit, based on our estimates from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN).
  • In Great Britain, 5.7% of respondents in 2019 said they currently used an e-cigarette, which equates to nearly 3 million adults in the population.

The report says: “E-cigarettes are increasingly being used by smokers to help quit smoking. In a recent evidence review, Public Health England found that vaping poses a small fraction of the risk of smoking and that when e-cigarettes are used as part of a quit attempt, success rates are comparable with or higher than licensed medication alone. Welsh Government have also reported that the most common reason for using e-cigarettes was to help stop smoking tobacco (76% of current users).

“In 2019, 5.7% of survey respondents reported that they currently used an e-cigarette (vaped); this equates to almost 3 million vapers in the population of Great Britain. This proportion is significantly higher than that observed in 2014, when data collection began, when only 3.7% vaped. In 2019, changes in proportions of those who said they vaped were not statistically significantly different from the previous year.”

The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) noted: “From the ONS data published yesterday: The proportion who vaped before smoking cigarettes in 2019, was 0%. Once again, evidence of there being no so called ‘gateway effect’ from vaping to smoking.”

The other British trade body, UKVIA, noted that the UK government has “a big job to get the UK to go smoke-free according to latest ONS data”, and that the vaping industry “is best placed to help reach this milestone”.

John Dunne, director of UKVIA, said: “It’s now high time that Government and its relevant agencies fast track vaping take-up among existing smokers to realise its smoke-free vision for the UK. The ONS confirmed in its report that “e-cigarettes are increasingly being used by smokers to help quit smoking”. This comes on the back of the Public Health England evidence review of vaping earlier this year which stated that vaping poses a small fraction of the risk of smoking and that when e-cigarettes are used as part of a quit attempt, success rates are comparable with or higher than licensed medication alone.

The Government has an opportunity to bring VAT on vaping (20%) in line with NRT products, which has a VAT rate of 5%. At the same time the Department for Health and Social Care and the NHS also have a pivotal role to play in supporting vaping on the healthcare estate and to enhancing the vaping knowledge of doctors so they are well informed to provide best advice on how their patients, who smoke and otherwise do not quit, can make the switch.

The ONS figures show that a majority of smokers (52.7%) want to quit cigarettes and we believe they deserve the best tools to do it – and vaping needs to be very much part of the toolbox. We are particularly pleased to see that of those who have never smoked just 0.4% vape, which demonstrates how targeted vaping products are to those who need them, namely adult smokers.”

On the so-called ‘gateway effect’, the New Nicotine Alliance said: “Many of the direst predictions of the effect of safer nicotine products – not just here but in other countries - have often focussed strongly on the possibility of a ‘gateway’ from vaping to combustible tobacco use, especially amongst youth. However, in the UK where regulations on reduced risk products are arguably the most liberal in the world, this is simply not happening.

“These figures seem to endorse the government’s willingness to allow vaping and other safer nicotine delivery systems to flourish. Who knows how many dual users have now transitioned entirely to vaping amongst that static population of 3 million e-cigarette users? Additionally, how many of the statistically significant number of smokers have switched to other safer products not studied in this analysis such as heated tobacco and tobacco free nicotine pouches which are now sold in UK supermarkets?

“One thing that seems certain is that if anywhere was to see a big gateway effect from widespread use of vaping products and other alternatives, it would be here in the UK. But there is no apocalypse as predicted by negative soothsayers, it would appear that normalising alternative products merely normalises switching away from smoking.”

The nicotine consumer charity went on to add that this has all managed to take place against a backdrop of “atrocious media headlines and heavy funding of bad news from conflicted sources.”

The NNA called upon the government to be bolder going forward, “and further relax restrictions on safer nicotine products to make them more visible to the 52.7% of smokers who the ONS has concluded want to quit.


  • Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2019 – [link]
  • New Nicotine Alliance – [link]
  • UK Vaping Industry Association – [link]
  • Independent British Vape Trade Association – [link]

Photo Credit:

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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