Today saw the latest release of adult smoking rate data from the Office of National Statistics based on the Annual Population Survey and the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. The data shows that over the last 12 months, the overall smoking rate has fallen at a historical rate of 1.5%, to a new historical low of 17.2%.
Worth celebrating are the specific age group declines - 18-24 fell from 20.7% to 19.3%, 25-34 fell from 23.0% to 20.8%, 35-44 fell from 19.5% to 18.1%. Among the respondents included in this survey, 5.6% stated they were current e-cigarette users, equating to approximately 2.9 million users.
This is hardly surprising given that e-cigarettes remain the most common tool for those wishing to stop smoking. The main reason given in this survey was just that, using an e-cigarette as an aid to stop smoking (50.1% of current smokers, and 48.2% of ex-smokers).
With a large decline in youth smoking - 19.3% in the 18-24 age group - the worry of a theoretical gateway to smoking would seem to have taken another beating, considering that the use of e-cigarettes in that age group have almost doubled.
There is growing interest in the perceptions of harm related to e-cigarettes, and that is reflected in the latest data from ONS. On the whole, smokers tend to have a different perception of e-cigarettes when compared with the perceptions held by ex-smokers and those who have never smoked.
Specifically, 60.8% of smokers who had never used an e-cigarette felt that e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes; this is around 14 points lower than the 75.1% of smokers who have ever used an e-cigarette (current or past use). In dual users, 91.1% reported that e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes.
Worryingly, the perception of harms related to e-cigarettes between the two groups (smokers and ex-smokers) remains significant - only 35.2% of ex-smokers believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, compared to 18.1% of current smokers.
While the benefits of using e-cigarettes are clear in terms of a reduced smoking prevalence rate and public health in general, the increasing number of people that believing e-cigarettes are as harmful (or more harmful) than tobacco is a trend that urgently needs to be reversed with clear, concise information from the Government, Public Health and Tobacco Control.
With the Tobacco & Related Products Regulations 2016 now in full force, the data gathered over the next 12 months will prove to be very interesting. The impact of the TRPR is largely unknown, though it is expected that the prevalence of e-cigarette use will likely fall, the decline in smoking prevalence may stall, and there’s a possibility of a slight increase in youth smoking uptake.
Overall, the latest data vindicates the overall UK policy on vaping, but more must be done to take advantage of the benefits.