14 Dec

Smoker numbers drop as vaping becomes more popular

The number of people who smoke has dropped in the UK, as vaping has become more popular.

Smoker numbers fell to the lowest on record in 2021, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The proportion of adults who smoked dropped to 13.3% from 14% in 2020. When the records began in 2011, 20.2% of adults smoked. 

As the number of smokers fell, the proportion of over 16s using e-cigarettes increased. According to ONS data, 7.7% of over 16s vaped in 2021 compared to 6.4% in 2020. 

James Tucker, analyst at the ONS, suggested that the decrease in smoking could be linked to an increase in the use of e-cigarettes, but there are additional factors to consider, including smoke-free public places and improved education about the impact of smoking on health. The ONS described the drop in smoker numbers as “statistically significant.”

The government is aiming to reduce the number of smokers in England to 12% or lower by the end of 2022. The most recent ONS data shows that England had the smallest proportion of smokers (13%) and Scotland had the highest (14.8%). The rates were 14.1% in Wales and 13.8% in Northern Ireland.

Men are more likely to smoke than women. Data shows that 15.1% of men smoke compared to 11.5% of women. Most smokers were aged between 25 and 34 years old. The proportion of smokers was lowest in the over 65s age group (8%).

Vaping is seen by some smokers as a means of making it easier to quit smoking and public health teams sometimes encourage using e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Vaping can help people to gradually decrease their intake of nicotine and it reduces exposure to other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. The NHS website suggests that e-cigarettes are less damaging than cigarettes, but there is no data about the long-term effects of vaping.