Smoking rates have hit a new record low thanks to the advent of vaping. Just 17.2% of British adults now smoke, but that figure is even lower in England as it has been inflated by Scottish and Northern Irish figures. Even though Scotland has seen the fastest drop in smoking rates, it still holds the highest number of smokers (at 19.1% of the population).
According to The Guardian: “Half of the 2.3 million people who were users of e-cigarettes said they were doing it to quit smoking. A further 22% said they were vaping because it was less harmful than smoking. Only 10% said they chose to vape because it was cheaper than buying cigarettes.”
It is no surprise that record drops in smoking rates have followed on from the boom in vaping, a point made by Professor Robert West after last year’s data was released. In fact, The Guardian goes on to add: “The figures will bolster the arguments of those who believe e-cigarettes have a major role to play in ending the tobacco epidemic.”
One aspect of concern is the rise in young people trying vaping, now up to 30% according to ONS data. But, given the lack of evidence from research to support a gateway effect, if this blocks them from progressing from tobacco experimentation into fully-fledged smokers then should this not be applauded? After all, 20.7% of young people smoked tobacco cigarettes last year, and this represents a drop from five years ago when the rate was 25.8%.
ASH’s Hazel Cheeseman said: “While young adults might be more likely to have tried an ecigarette, older age groups are more likely to be current vapers. We know that the majority of these users are smokers or ex‑smokers, half of whom say they are using ecigarettes as part of an attempt to quit. Where smokers completely switch they can expect to greatly reduce the risk to their health.”
But is this the last hurrah for a while, for smoking cessation? Quit programs have been hived off to local councils, and the austerity cutbacks have seen a number of services shutting up shop. Tack on the government’s adoption of the Tobacco Products Directive-driven attack on vaping, and the inability for manufacturers to inform the public about the safer nature of vaping, and it’s difficult to see how next year’s figures will be much to shout about.
ASH’s Deborah Arnott explained: “The decline in smoking is very encouraging and shows that strong tobacco control measures are working. However, the government can’t leave it to individual smokers to try to quit on their own. If the downward trend is to continue we urgently need a new tobacco control plan for England, and proper funding for public health and for mass media campaigns. That’s essential if the prime minister is to live up to her promise to tackle health and social inequality.”