The United Kingdom has the 10th lowest rates of smoking, below Australia, Canada and the United States of America. 14.9% of the adult population of England reported to smoke in 2017 which, while a decrease of 6% from the previous year, equates to around 7.4 million people. More than half (59%) of adult respondents reported that have never smoked.
Note: The reliability of the information within the annual survey may be slightly skewed as respondents tended to round the amount of cigarettes they smoked a day down to the nearest 10.
The rise of vaping
In recent years, the attitude towards smoking across the UK has drastically changed. A report from mid September 2018 indicated that e-cigarettes (vaping) are becoming more popular than traditional cigarettes among smokers. Moreover, the use of e-cigarettes was more prevalent in men than women, with 6.5% of the male UK populous vaping as opposed to 4.6% of women.
The reason for this increase could be any number of factors including the price of tobacco, which has been made 30% less affordable and more strongly regulated over the past decade, the availability of e-liquid and vaping paraphernalia, as well as the consensus regarding the safety of e-cigarettes by smokers. Some NHS trusts even believe that e-cigarettes should be made available on prescription and should not be neglected as an alternative method of smoking cessation.
48.8% of people who turned to vaping did so in an effort to quit smoking. However, fewer current smokers (70%) perceive e-cigarettes to be safer than cigarettes as opposed to non-smokers (74%) and ex-smokers (78%). Between 2014 and 2017, there has been a steady uptake of vaping, but there has also been an increase in ex-smokers who are quitting vaping too. Over 700,000 people in England sought to quit both smoking and vaping from 2016 to 2017.
Who is more likely to smoke?
Two thirds of smokers start smoking before the age of 18, which is one of the contributing reasons why the UK government enforced standardised packaging on cigarettes. The UK became the second country to do this, following Australia, and hope that this tactic will deter younger people from smoking.
Interestingly, socio-economic factors, such as education and employment, made significant impacts to the statistics. The report from the ONS (Office of National Statistics) indicated that people in routine and manual jobs were more likely to smoke than those in managerial and professional roles, and unemployed adults were more likely to smoke than those in employment. Adults with higher qualifications were less likely to smoke than those with no formal qualifications. While adults who were married or in civil partnerships were found to be the least likely to smoke, accounting for 10% of the respondents, the highest rate was seen among cohabiting people (22%), followed by adults who were single (21%), divorced, widowed or separated (17%).
How does smoking affect the NHS?
484,700 hospital admissions were attributable to smoking, between 2016 and 2017. Every year, 79,000 people die of smoking related illnesses in England.
In 2017, there was a 2% increase in smoking related admissions to hospital. Nearly a quarter of admissions for respiratory disease were attributable to smoking. Of all the diseases which can be caused by smoking, cancer was the most noticeable, accounting for 47% of all smoking related illness. Surprisingly, the number of smoking related deaths dropped in 2016 by 2%. Manchester was found to have the highest smoking related mortality rate (around 0.5%) with 499 of every 1,000 deaths being attributed to smoking.
Quit smoking attempts at NHS stop smoking services have declined in recent years from around 800,000 between 2011 and 2012, to 300,00 between 2016 and 2017, though the success rate of these cessation products has remained fairly stable (51% collectively). Nicotine replacement therapies (patches, gums) were the most popular cessation products, with the least popular treatment being Bupropion. The number of prescription smoking cessation medications being dispensed fell from 2.56 million between 2010 and 2011, to 0.86 million between 2017 and 2018.
How much this costs the NHS per year is difficult to say for certain, though it is estimated that the annual cost of treating smoking related illnesses, including admissions, consultations, treatments and surgery, costs between 2.7 billion and 5.1 billion pounds. To put this into perspective, diseases and injuries caused by alcohol cost the NHS 3.5 billion annually and obesity is estimated to rack up more than 5.1 billion pounds a year. 26 million pounds was spent on prescription stop smoking treatments between 2017 and 2018, with each treatment costing around £30.
The government of England aims to bring the amount of smokers to fewer than 12% of the population by 2022, by regulating the distribution of tobacco products and packaging while campaigning for a smoke-free Britain. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own targets and strategies too, in the hopes of lowering the amount of smokers across the UK.