Smokers: disillusioned with smoking and over-optimistic about quitting. New survey published in BMJ.

Friday 08 March 2002


News release:  Embargo: 00:01 Friday 8th March 2002
Smokers are deeply disillusioned with smoking but also are highly over-optimistic about whether they are likely to quit, and how long it will take. The vast majority of smokers (83%) would not smoke if they had their time again.   Over half of smokers (53%) expect to quit within two years, but recent history shows that only 6% are likely to quit over this period. Young people are particularly prone to over-optimism – 80% of 16-29 year olds expect to have quit within 10 years, but recent history shows that by age 40, 65% percent of people that ever smoked were still smoking, and 46% by age 60. Looking further ahead – 7 out of 10 of current smokers think they will have quit within 20 years from now, but looking back only 4 out 10 smokers that ever smoked quit over the last 20 years.

The survey [1] was commissioned jointly by ASH, the No Smoking Day charity and Cancer Research UK and results published in a letter to the British Medical Journal [2]. The aim is to expose what smoking really means to consumers, to challenge complacency about quitting, and to encourage urgency in efforts to quit. The annual No Smoking Day, this year on 13th March 2002, offers an ideal opportunity  for smokers and health professionals to make serious efforts to break the addictive grip of tobacco.

Doreen McIntyre, Chief Executive of No Smoking Day, said:

It’s tempting for smokers to believe that quitting will just somehow happen sometime in the near future, but the truth is that it won’t until they start taking action. The longer they smoke, the tougher it can be to crack the addiction so we’d advise smokers to start trying to stop as soon as they start feeling bad about smoking – that’s pretty early in most cases. About 2 million people have a crack at giving up on or around No Smoking Day, and we hope the new data will persuade even more to give it a try.

Clive Bates, Director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, said:

It’s a bizarre product that causes four out of five of its consumers to say they would not use it given their time again – it’s hard to imagine drinkers, drivers, computer users or anyone else feeling the same way about products they use – except perhaps heroin addicts. Young people really do believe they can flirt with smoking then quit at leisure, but in practice they are likely to be smoking for far longer than they expect and becoming more addicted as the years pass.

Professor Martin Jarvis, Principal Scientist at Cancer Research UK, said:

There is a yawning gulf between smokers’ wildly overoptimistic expectations of future quitting and the dismal reality.  This delusion gap probably reflects wishful thinking more than hard-headed calculation, but it does tend to confirm that most smokers have a desperate desire to be rid of tobacco.  The tobacco companies talk about free adult choice, but they are selling an addictive drug and people consume it because they are hooked, and not because they choose to.

Notes and links:

[1] Omnibus Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics. The Omnibus Survey takes the Postcode Address File as its sampling frame and carries out face to face interviews with some 1800 adults each month, one from each randomly selected household. We included questions on smoking in two months, October and November 2001. The response rate was 65%, with a total of 3495 respondents of whom 893 (25.6%) were smokers.

[2] Jarvis MJ, McIntyre D, Bates C. Disillusioned with smoking, deluded about quitting: the case for urgency in smoking cessation, BMJ 9th March 2002 (see letter (pdf) as published in the BMJ BMJ 2002;324:608 (9 March))


Clive Bates: +44 (0)20 7739 5902 (w) +44(0)77 6879 1237 (m) ISDN available 

Doreen McIntyre: +44 (0)20 7916 8070 (w) +44 (0)77 7065 7241 (m)

Martin Jarvis: +44 (0)20 7679 6626 (w) +44 (0)79 4654 5445 (m)