The figures show a year-on-year decline in the number of smokers across the country, from 17.8% of adults in 2015 to 16.1% in 2016, one of the most significant percentage drops in decades.
Speaking about the findings today, the British Lung Foundation, said: “These statistics confirm that e-cigarettes are mainly being used to help people quit. Given that half of long term smokers die as a result of their habit, using vaping to help someone stop smoking could literally save their life. ”
“These new figures are obviously extremely welcome. The UK should be proud that its smoking rates are now the second lowest in Europe,” said Marc Michelsen, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs. “We know that 2.9 million people in the UK are currently using e-cigarettes and that over 50 percent of them have successfully quit tobacco altogether which is a very positive trend.”
According to the ONS data, the steepest decline occurred among young people aged 16 to 24, with smoking rates in this age group dropping from 23.6% in 2015 to 16.6% in 2016.
“The significant drop in young people smoking is impressive,” said Michelsen. “It also tells us that any fears around vaping ‘renormalising’ smoking – or acting as a ‘gateway’ to conventional tobacco – are simply not materialising. To the contrary, it would seem that the availability of e-cigarettes is speeding up the de-normalisation of smoking across all age groups.”
Last month, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) published findings from its most recent YouGov survey, which found that – although increasing numbers of vapers are successfully using e-cigarettes to quit tobacco – millions more smokers remain very confused by the devices, believing, in many cases, that they are worse than conventional cigarettes.
“We know from the ASH study that 22 percent of UK smokers now think that e-cigarettes are ‘as harmful’ or ‘more harmful’ than tobacco. This is worrying and the figure is increasing every year,” said Michelsen. “While any decline in smoking rates must be celebrated, there is a very real danger that more rapid improvements in the future will be hindered by the absence of a comprehensive campaign to educate smokers about the e-cigarettes.”
In 2015, Public Health England released its landmark report concluding that vaping is ’95 percent less harmful than smoking’, a view subsequently supported by numerous anti-tobacco and public health groups in the country, including Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians.
“The fact is, it’s not enough to simply publish these findings,” said Michelsen. “Millions of smokers across the country remain entrenched in their smoking behaviour and we believe they deserve access to evidence-based, scientific information about vaping in order to make informed decisions about the choices available to them.”