Smoking ban: Number of UK smokers falls by nearly two million in 10 years

Health campaigners celebrate ban's 'enormous success' as smoking rates at lowest ever recorded

Katie Forster
Health Correspondent
Saturday 01 July 2017 00:05 BST
It has been illegal to smoke in an enclosed public place in England since 1 July, 2007
It has been illegal to smoke in an enclosed public place in England since 1 July, 2007 (Getty)

The number of smokers in Britain has fallen by 1.9 million since the smoking ban was introduced in England a decade ago, according to Cancer Research UK.

Health campaigners are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the legislation prohibiting smoking from almost all enclosed public spaces, including offices, factories, pubs, restaurants and railway stations.

Smoking rates are now at their lowest ever recorded and the ban has been an “enormous success” with a significant impact on public health, said the charity’s chief executive.

“As well as protecting people from the deadly effects of passive smoking, we've also seen big changes in public attitudes towards smoking,” said Sir Harpal Kumar.

“It's now far less socially acceptable and we hope this means fewer young people will fall into such a potentially lethal addiction.”

Cancer Research UK’s statistical information calculated the number of adult cigarette smokers in Great Britain had dropped nearly 20 per cent from an estimated 10.2 million in 2007 to 8.3 million in 2016.

The proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who smoke had fallen to 17 per cent from 26 per cent in 2007, a record low and the biggest drop among all age groups.

Impact of smoking on lungs

A poll of more than 4,300 people for the charity found that just 12 per cent favoured reversing the laws.

But Sir Harpal warned “the job is far from done” as there are still more than 8 million smokers in Britain and “tens of thousands of children taking up the deadly addiction every year”.

“We need this Government to continue focusing on tobacco and we urge it to publish the Tobacco Control Plan for England as soon as possible.”

An Action on Smoking and Heath (Ash) report released to coincide with the anniversary said there was increasing public support for further measures such as a licencing scheme for tobacco retailers and a levy on the tobacco industry to pay for measures to reduce smoking.

A long-running Ash/YouGov survey showed support for the smoke-free legislation in England had increased from 78 per cent of all respondents when it came into effect in 2007 to 83 per cent now, primarily due to an increase in support among smokers from 40 per cent to 55 per cent.

Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Over the last decade the Ash/YouGov survey is evidence of high, and growing, public appetite for government action to reduce smoking prevalence.

“It's especially telling that one of the most important factors in this growth is support by smokers — and this is happening at the same time as the numbers of people smoking have fallen to the lowest on record.”

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said: ”The smoke-free legislation has been extraordinary in the way we now experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places.

“Young people have not had to experience the smoke-filled bars and clubs that once choked their parents and workers. They've grown up in a world where smoking is no longer socially acceptable.

“The law has played a key part in the huge cultural change we have seen in the past decade, especially among younger people, a change that has literally saved thousands from disabling chronic diseases and premature death.”

A spokesman for smokers' group Forest said: ”It's disingenuous to suggest the smoking ban has been a significant factor in reducing smoking rates.

“For five years after 2007 smoking rates fell in line with the pre-ban trend. The most substantial fall in smoking rates happened after 2012, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

“Attempts to force people to quit are invariably counter-productive. Education and support for less harmful products is the way to go, not prohibition and other restrictive practices.”

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