Smoking Rates Decline, Again

Shutterstock/Canna Obscura

Today saw the release of the latest set of data for smoking prevalence within the UK from the Office of National Statistics Annual Population Survey and the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.

As you would expect from the UK, with its generally liberal stance on e-cigarettes, and despite the shitstorm of piss poor media reporting on various studies, stupid legislation proposals, daft bans, and general bullshit; e-cigarettes remain the most common aid for people to move away from tobacco.

According to this latest data, in 2016, of all adult survey respondents in the UK, 15.8% smoked which equates to around 7.6 million in the population. In 2010, the adult smoking rate was 20.1% and had declined slowly, but steadily – 19.6%, 18.8%, 18.1%, 17.2% in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively.

Figure 1- Proportion of current smokers, all persons aged 18 and over.png
Image source: ONS Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2016

No doubt there’ll be some out there that’ll want to claim credit for such a remarkable decline over the last 12 months, but we know that those claims are going to be hollow.

Figure 6- Proportion of current e-cigarette users, all persons by age group.png
Image source: ONS Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2016

Naturally, it would be a bit presumptuous to claim that the humble e-cigarette is the sole cause for the decline in smoking in the UK, but it is difficult to argue that the increase in their usage over the last three years hasn’t been a significant factor, considering that e-cigarettes are the most common product used for those that want to quit smoking.

Of course, now that the TRPR is in full effect, it will be interesting to see how these statistics play out this time next year won’t it?

Naturally, there has been some (completely expected) revelations in this data, the youth data for e-cigarette use (shown above) shows a significant increase in the 16-24 bracket (from 1.4% in 2014 to 5.8% in 2016) which will obviously bring about the thoroughly debunked gateway theory. Unfortunately for the gateway theorists, the data doesn’t support it (yet):

Figure 2- Proportion of current smokers, all persons by age group.png
Image source: ONS Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2016

For the age group 18-24 in 2010, the smoking rate was 25.8%, in 2015 it was 20.7%. It is now 19.3%. If there was a “gateway” problem, then the rate of smoking among that age group would not have declined so sharply.

It’s a thin argument for sure, but the data doesn’t suggest anything other than the simple, unassailable fact that wherever e-cigarette prevalence is on the rise, the smoking rates decline.

It isn’t, as some claim, a result of “tobacco control policies” – the last major legislation passed as a result of these policies is of course the Smoking in Cars, which hasn’t exactly been a rip-roaring success, as I wrote about at the time.

Of course, you could argue that the public place and advertising bans had a significant impact on smoking rates (and the impact on the hospitality industry), yet that was 2007. There hasn’t been any significant policies, other than illiberal, bed-wetting pipe-dreams that have achieved any level of success, no matter how you wrap it up in flowery bullshit:

“This proves that tobacco control policies work when they are part of a comprehensive strategy and are properly funded.”

It proves nothing of the sort, but that has never stopped ASH from lying.

Figure 3- Average daily consumption of cigarettes among current smokers for men and women aged 16 and over.png
Image source: ONS Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2016

In fact, the above chart from ONS clearly shows the rate of decline began slowly, saw a slight increase around 2006-2008, followed by a sharp decline around 2011 before once again tailing off. Now what happened in 2011? Could it be the defeat of the MHRA plans to medicalise vaping leading to the consumer market gearing up?

Figure 4- Proportion of current smokers and smokers who have quit, all persons aged 16 and over.png
Image source: ONS Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2016

There’s a vague timeline of significant events that had an impact on the smoking rates, the 2006/07 ban is there, as is the rise of the use of e-cigarettes. Even though the 2015 Smoking in Cars legislation hasn’t achieved much, it is shown. But the recent favourite of tobacco control – plain packaging – isn’t shown. Despite their claims of that legislation being magically responsible for a decline in the rate last year, it wasn’t officially in force until May this year, so any effect of the ban on the “glitzy tobacco packaging” won’t be recognised,  if at all, until this time next year.

I think we can safely say that plain packs, as per the Australian Experiment, will be another dismal, virtue signalling failure by the muppets in tobacco control.

The only other European countries that have a smoking rate below 20% are Sweden and Finland. The difference in Sweden is the wide availability of not just e-cigarettes, but Snus.

The UK, like Finland and Sweden, are experimental areas where the consumer driven market for reduced risk products like Snus, e-cigarettes and soon heat-not-burn are doing exactly what tobacco controllers have been trying to do for 40 years – reducing the smoking rates.

Yet tobacco control, in it’s twisted wisdom, wants snus, e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn to be heavily regulated out of existence.

Tell me, is that really about health?

(image credit Shutterstock/Canna Obscura)

5 thoughts on “Smoking Rates Decline, Again”

    1. Yep, and they’ll continue to do so, so long as free market reduced risk alternatives are widely available. It’ll never hit zero mind, there are still a large number of smokers that don’t want to switch to vaping/snus/HnB and that is entirely their choice.

      Let’s see what year one of the TRPR brings eh?

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