UK Survey Indicates Once Again That Adult Smoking Rates Are At a Record Low

The UK’s Annual Population Survey (APS), has found that in 2022, 12.9% of people aged 18 years and above, equating to approximately 6.4 million people, smoked cigarettes.

The 12.9% rate is the lowest smoking rate ever recorded in the United Kingdom since rates started being recorded in 2011. The lowest number of current smokers was recorded in England at 12.7%, followed by 14.1%, 14.0% and 13.9%, in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively.

In the UK, 14.6% of men smoked compared with 11.2% of women, and the highest smoking rates were recorded among people aged 25 to 34 years at 16.3%. Those aged 65 years and over had the lowest rates at 8.3%.

With regards to vaping, 8.7% or about 4.5 million adults, said they currently vaped daily or occasionally, this is an increase from 2021 where 7.7% of people reported daily or occasional vaping. The highest vaping rates were reported among those aged between 16 and 24 years in Great Britain. In fact the percentage of people who vaped in this age group in this age group rose to 15.5% from 11.1% in 2021.

The percentage of female vapers is higher than males’
Meanwhile, data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that within the same age group, 15 women vaped daily in 2022, at 6.7%. This was up from fewer than one in 50 (1.9%) in 2021. The ONS stated that this percentage indicates that young women have officially overtaken their male counterparts with regards to vaping rates.
This pattern was also observed in an NHS survey conducted last year, where more than one in five 15-year-old girls reported vaping, a higher rate than the one observed in male students. More importantly, the rate of people in this age group who smoke has dropped to its lowest rate, at 11.2%. This was down from 12.7% the previous year.

The UK is a leader in tobacco harm reduction
In fact, in line with these data and arguments by tobacco control and public health experts worldwide, a 2022 comprehensive review had confirmed that the UK is leading the way with its smoking cessation strategy. “The most comprehensive review of vaping risks to date confirms the United Kingdom is backing the right horse when it comes to smoking cessation,” said Nancy Loucas, Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA (Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates).

Commissioned by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the research was conducted at King’s College London. It reiterated that vaping poses ‘a small fraction of the health risks of smoking’. To this effect, concluded the review, the use of vaping products rather than smoking leads to a ‘substantial reduction’ in exposure to toxicants that promote cancer, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, Dr Ian Walker, believes that this study confirmed the benefit in switching to proven safer alternatives. Titled ‘Nicotine Vaping In England: 2022 Evidence Update,’ the report has also gained support from the UK’s Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). The group’s chief executive Deborah Arnott, reiterated that ‘the evidence is clear that vaping poses a small fraction of the risk of smoking’.

The UK’s vaping revolution
Meanwhile, in response to another report released by ASH itself, indicating the success of what is being called “a vaping revolution”, a number of tobacco harm reduction groups such as CAPHRA are saying that this success is a reason to follow in the UK’s example. “Smoking in Britain is dramatically falling, largely because adults keen to quit have been able to switch to considerably less harmful vaping,” said Loucas.

ASH’s survey confirmed that the majority of vapers are smokers who turned to the devices in order to quit smoking. This increase in vaping has meant that the number of smoking adults has dropped from 20% in 2011 to 14% in 2019. CAPHRA highlighted that these figures confirm that the constant international “scaremongering” about vaping is based on nonsense.

In other news, a guidance published last October by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, stated that any approved vaping products, would be made available for doctors to prescribe. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that the fact that the NHS will now be able to prescribe vaping products to smokers wishing to quit, once again puts England as a leader of the tobacco harm reduction movement.

Javid said that in the following months he would announce further measures that address the root causes of such disparities, a “vaping revolution” that would facilitate vape prescriptions by GP’s. To this effect, last April the UK announced that one million smokers would be given free vape kits to help them quit smoking, while pregnant smokers would be offered up to £400 as an incentive to stop. The “swap to stop” free vape policy is the first of its kind and it focuses on helping smokers to quit rather than imposing bans.