Current smokers at lowest level with vaping playing ‘major role’: ONS

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Smoking prevalence in the UK has decreased in 2021 to lowest recorded levels as the number of vape users increased, the latest official data has shown.

According to the ‘Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2021’ report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published on 6 December, 13.3 per cent of people aged 18 years and over smoked cigarettes last year in the UK, which equates to around 6.6 million people in the population and compares to 14 per cent in 2020.

The ONS said this is the lowest proportion of current smokers since records started in 2011 based on the estimates from the Annual Population Survey.

The latest figure represents a 6.9 percentage point decrease in current smokers compared with 2011 (20.2 per cent), and the ONS said vaping devices have played a “major role” in the decrease in smoking prevalence in the UK.

“The decrease in the proportion of current smokers may be partly attributed to the increase in vaping and e-cigarette use. Data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey have shown regular use of a vaping device has increased in 2021 and the highest usage was among those aged 16 to 24 years,” commented James Tucker, of the Data and Analysis for Social Care and Health Division at the ONS.

According to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, 7.7 per cent of respondents in Britain, aged 16 years and over, in 2021 said they currently used an e-cigarette daily or occasionally, which equates to around 4 million adults in the population. This is an increase on the estimate from 2020, where 6.4 per cent of people reported daily or occasional e-cigarette use.

In 2021, England had the lowest proportion of current smokers with 13 per cent, which equates to around 5.4 million people. The Tobacco Control Plan for England aims to reduce smoking prevalence among adults to 12 per cent or less by the end of 2022.

For the other constituent countries of the UK, Scotland had the highest proportion of current smokers (14.8 per cent). In Wales and Northern Ireland, the proportion of current smokers was 14.1 per cent and 13.8 per cent, respectively.

Prevalence of vaping in Britain

In 2021, 4.9 per cent of survey respondents reported that they were currently daily users of an e-cigarette, which is an increase from 3.8 per cent in 2020. A further 2.8 per cent reported using an e-cigarette occasionally, which is an increase from 2.6 per cent in 2020. Together, this equates to around 4 million vapers in the population of Britain.

As seen in previous years, a higher proportion of men reported vaping daily or as an occasional user (9.7 per cent) compared with women (5.7 per cent) in 2021.

For the first time since the data collection began in 2014 young people aged 16 to 24 years reported the highest proportion of vapers (daily and occasional) at 11.1 per cent.

Notably, the report finds high prevalence of vaping among current smokers, with the proportion of vapers highest among current cigarette smokers (25.3 per cent) and ex-cigarette smokers (15.0 per cent) in 2021. Only 1.5 per cent of people who have never smoked reported that they currently vape.