Teen smoking prevalence in England falls further to 16%

Author: Caroline White

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The proportion of teens who say they have ever smoked cigarettes has fallen to 16%, the latest figures* from NHS Digital show.

The figures, which are based on a biennial survey of secondary school pupils in England in Years seven to 11 (mostly aged 11 to 15) found that the proportion of pupils who had ever smoked cigarettes was down 3% on the 2016 figures of 19%, and well below the 49% reported in 1996.

There was no increase in e-cigarette use, with one in four pupils saying that they had ever used e-cigarettes, the same as in 2016. The prevalence of current and regular e-cigarette use remained at 6% and 2%, respectively.

Current e-cigarette use increased with age, from less than 1% of 11-year-olds, to 11% of 15-year-olds.

Pupils who had ever smoked were much more likely to also have used an e-cigarette at least once, than those who had never smoked.

Most regular smokers (92%) reported having ever used e-cigarettes. This compares to just 14% of pupils who had never smoked.

Regular smokers were also more likely to be regular e-cigarette users: 29% in 2018, falling to 9% for ex-smokers, 4% for pupils who had tried smoking once, and less than 1% of those who had never smoked.

“It’s excellent news that only one in six children aged 11-15 have ever tried smoking, a significant decline compared to 1996 when it was just under half,” commented Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). 

“Furthermore, in line with the ASH survey data for 2019, the proportion trying e-cigarettes has not increased and vaping remains largely concentrated among those who are already smokers.

“This provides reassurance that our regulations are working and vaping has not become the 'super-cool' phenomenon among young people in England that it is said to be in the USA,” she added.

But one in 10 pupils said they had drunk alcohol in the past week, although this ranged from 2% of 11-year-olds to nearly one in four (23%) of 15-year-olds. And more than one in five (22%) of 15-year-olds said they had been drunk in the past four weeks.

And nearly one in four (24%) pupils said they had ever taken drugs. Again, this ranged from nearly one in 10 of 11-year-olds (9%) to nearly four out of 10 (38%) 15-year-olds.

Nearly one in 10 (9%) said they had taken drugs within the past month.


*Smoking drinking and drug use among young people in England 2018. NHS Digital, 20 August 2019.

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Editorial team, Wilmington Healthcare

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