The number of smokers in England has fallen by almost two million in seven years.
One in seven adults now smoke tobacco – about 5.9million people – down from 7.7million in 2011, when the figure was more like one in five.
And England has a smaller proportion of smokers than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, with experts saying a ‘smoke-free generation’ is now in sight.
The introduction of plain green packaging and hiding cigarettes behind shutters in shops are credited for helping people quit.
Britons haven’t managed to ditch nicotine completely, though, and the number of people using e-cigarettes has rocketed by 70 per cent in just four years.
The proportion of people in England who smoke in England has dropped from 19.8 per cent in 2011 to 14.4 per cent – around one in seven people – in 2018, figures have revealed
England’s tobacco smoking rate among over-18s is now 14.4 per cent, compared to 16.3 per cent in Scotland, 15.9 in Wales and 15.5 in Northern Ireland.
England’s rate has dropped from 14.9 per cent in 2017 and 19.8 per cent in 2011, earning praise from health officials and charities.
‘Smoking in England is in terminal decline,’ said Public Health England’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, ‘with the lowest number of smokers ever and a smoke-free generation now in sight.’
Smoking kills 1.2million people every year and people who do it are twice as likely to have a heart attack and up to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer.
Despite efforts to help people quit, however, the rate at which the number of smokers is falling has slowed down.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘It’s encouraging to see that smoking rates in England have slightly dropped.
‘However, these figures show there’s still millions of smokers who aren’t accessing vital NHS stop smoking support, which we know can make all the difference in quitting.’
Smoking rates vary hugely across the UK and the worst affected area has seven times as many smokers as the place with the fewest.
Hull has the highest levels of smokers, with 26.1 per cent of people considering themselves smokers.
WHERE DO THE MOST PEOPLE SMOKE IN ENGLAND?
- Hull (26.1%)
- Lincoln (26.1%)
- Burnley (24.8%)
- Mansfield (23.1%)
- Rugby (23.1%)
- Folkestone (22.8%)
- Boston (22.4%)
- Barking & Dagenham (22.4%)
- Ashford (21.5%)
- Slough (21.3%)
WHERE DO THE FEWEST PEOPLE SMOKE IN ENGLAND?
- Rushcliffe (3.6%)
- Richmond (5.9%)
- Richmondshire (6.3%)
- Oadby and Wigston (6.3%)
- Epsom and Ewell (6.7%)
- Selby (6.8%)
- Wychavon (6.8%)
- Brentwood (6.8%)
- Vale of White Horse (6.8%)
- Chiltern (7.1%)
This compares to just 3.6 per cent of people in Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire.
Other areas in the worst 10 affected were Lincoln, Burnley, Mansfield, Rugby, Folkestone, Boston, Barking & Dagenham, Ashford and Slough.
Others with the lowest levels of smoking were Richmond upon Thames, Richmondshire in North Yorkshire, Wigston in Leicestershire, and Epsom in Surrey.
Officials said people living in poorer areas are most likely to be smokers and to die of diseases related to the habit.
Local authorities in Blackpool and Sunderland had the highest rates of hospital admissions because of smoking – more than 2,900 per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile Wokingham had the lowest rate (721 per 100,000 people), followed by Rutland in East Leicestershire (877) and the Isle of Wight (877).
Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (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 9 years earlier than others.’
Age also affected how likely people were to smoke, with one in five 25 to 34-year-olds cigarette smokers but only one in 13 over-65s.
Dr Caitlin Notley, from the University of East Anglia’s medical school, said the figures meant ‘improved health for individuals and their families’.
‘Hidden point of sales displays, plain packaging, and encouraging smokers to switch to vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking, have all no doubt played important roles in our declining rates of tobacco smoking,’ Dr Notley said.
‘In England, our public health approach is really world-leading in supporting people to quit smoking and choose less harmful alternatives.
‘However there is still lots to be done to meet the national ambition of reducing smoking prevalence to 12 per cent or less.’
The strategies praised by Dr Notley have led to a massive increase in the number of people who regularly use e-cigarettes.
A total of 6.3 per cent of adults in England now admit to vaping, up from 5.5 per cent in 2017 and just 3.5 per cent in 2014.
Public health bodies are pushing the electronic devices as a healthier alternative to cigarettes because they don’t produce carbon monoxide or tar, but their health risks aren’t well understood.
More than half of e-cigarette users – the gadgets are most popular among 35 to 49-year-olds – said they had switched in their bid to help them quit smoking.