Fall in smoking rates slows

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

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Smoking rates in England have continued to fall, but the decline in rates is slowing, data from NHS Digital shows, raising fears that targets to cut smoking in pregnancy to 6% by 2022 will be missed.

The latest figures from the Statistics on Smoking, England: 2019 report show that the number of adult cigarette smokers in England has dropped by around 1.8m from 7.7m (19.8%) in 2011 to 5.9m (14.4%) in 2018.

The prevalence of adult smokers throughout the UK was 14.7%. Of the constituent countries, England had the lowest rates. Prevalence was highest in Scotland (16.3%), followed by Wales (15.9%) and then Northern Ireland (15.5%).

Statistics on Smoking, England: 2019 also includes figures on prevalence of smoking by age, prescriptions data, E-cigarette prevalence, hospital admissions and mortality attributable to smoking, and selected local level analyses.

Just under 11% of pregnant women were known to be smokers at the time of delivery in 2018-19. This is similar than the level recorded in 2017-18, but down from 15% in 2008/09.

Dr Clea Harmer, co-chair of Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group and chief executive of Sands, said: “Today’s figures show a worrying lack of progress in supporting all women to have smokefree pregnancies. Smoking is a leading cause of still birth and neonatal death and without urgent action the government is at risk of missing not only the ambition of the Tobacco Control Plan but also its aim to halve rates of still births, neonatal and maternal deaths by 2025.”

In 2018, adults aged 25 to 34 were most likely to smoke (19%), whilst those aged 65 and over were least likely to smoke (8%). In 2016, 6% of school pupils aged between 11 and 15 reported they were current smokers in 2016, down from 22% in 1996.

E-cigarette usage continues to rise, with 6.3% of adults being current users in 2018. This is compared to 5.5% in 2017 and 3.7% in 2014. The most common reason for adults using e-cigarettes was as an aid to quit smoking (51.5%).

The number of items dispensed as an aid to stop smoking in England was 740,000 in 2018-19, compared to 2.26m 10 years ago and a peak of 2.56m in 2010/11.

There were 489,300 estimated hospital admissions attributable to smoking in 2017-18, an increase of 1% on 2016-17 (484,700) and an increase of 11% on 2007-08 (440,400). For males, this accounted for 6% of all hospital admissions and for 3% of all admissions for females.

There were an estimated 77,800 deaths attributable to smoking in 2017, which is similar to 2016 (77,900) and a decrease of 6% per cent from 2007 (82,400).  For males, this accounted for 20% of all deaths, and 12% of all deaths for females.

However, there was a wide disparity across England in smoking, with around one in 20 adults smoking in Richmond upon Thames, compared with one in five in deprived communities like Blackpool.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said: “Higher smoking rates are responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. Eradicating the difference in smoking rates is the single most important step towards ending the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. The government has admitted this cannot be achieved by ‘business as usual’. In its forthcoming Prevention Green Paper the government must respond to public demand and impose a ‘polluter pays’ levy on the tobacco industry, as well as implementing tougher laws on smoking, such as increasing the age of sale for cigarettes to 21.”

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