ASH comment on annual smoking prevalence data 2019

2 July 2019

Deborah Arnott chief executive of health charity ASH said:

ASH welcomes the continuing decline in adult smoking rates, although the rate of decline has slowed. Worse still the lower headline rate hides a wide disparity across society, with around one in twenty adults smoking in Richmond upon Thames, while in deprived communities like Blackpool it is one in five.[1]

 “Higher smoking rates are responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. [2] 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 by. [3] The Government has admitted this cannot be achieved by ‘business as usual’. [4]  In its forthcoming Prevention Green Paper the Government must respond to public demand and impose a ‘polluter pays’ levy on the tobacco industry, as well as implementing tougher laws on smoking, such as increasing the age of sale for cigarettes to 21.”[5]


[1] NHS Digital. Statistics on Smoking: England 2019.

[2] Smoking remains leading cause of premature death and disability responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society (Jha and Peto et al 2006):

  • Smokers lose on average 10 years of life, premature mortality which can almost entirely be avoided if smokers quit by the age of 30, and halved if they quit by the age of 50.  (Doll and Peto 2004)
  • For every death caused by smoking, another twenty people are estimated to be suffering from serious smoking-related conditions such as cancer, cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases.  (CDC 2003)

[3] Speech  by Theresa May 13 July 2016

[4] DHSC. Vision for Prevention. 5 November 2018 –  precursor to a Prevention Green Paper due to be published shortly

[5] Public support for government to go further in limiting smoking is growing over time:

In total in 2019 over three quarters (77%) of adults in England surveyed support activities to limit smoking or think the government could do more.

The proportion of respondents who think the government could do more to limit smoking has grown substantially over time from 29% in 2009, when the question was first asked, to 39% in 2017 and at the time of our most recent survey in 2019 had risen to 46%. The proportion of respondents who think that the government is doing too much has fallen from 20% in 2009 to 11% in 2017 and 7% in 2019.

Specifically, in 2019 there is support for the following policy measures:

  • Making tobacco manufacturers pay a levy or licence fee to Government for measures to help smokers quit and prevent young people from taking up smoking: supported by 72% of respondents with only 7% opposing.
  • Requiring businesses to have a licence to sell tobacco which they can lose if they sell to underage smokers: supported by 81% of adults with only 4% opposing.
  • Increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21: supported by 58% of adults with only 17% opposing.
  • Prohibiting smoking in all cars: supported by 64% of adults with only 16% opposing.
  • Requiring tobacco manufacturers to include Government mandated information about quitting inside cigarette packs (64% of adults in England support, only 9% oppose).


Notes to the editor:

About Action on Smoking and Health:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

Media contacts:

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information send an email to or ring 020 7404 0242. Out of hours contact Deborah Arnott (Chief Executive, ASH) on 07976 935 987 or Ciaran Osborne (Director of Policy, ASH) on 07921 502181.

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