Smoking among schoolchildren at record low, new government figures show

2 November 2017

New data published by NHS Digital today show that smoking among 15 year olds has reached the lowest level on record at 7%. [1] The figures demonstrate that England continues to make good progress towards the government’s ambition of a smokefree generation. As outlined in the Tobacco Control Plan for England, the government has committed to reducing smoking prevalence among 15 year olds to 3% or lower by 2022. [2]

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England in 2016 survey found that in 2016 7% of 15 year olds were regular cigarette smokers [1] [3] compared to 8% at the time of the last survey in 2014. [3] This continues the longer-term decline seen since 2006, when 20% of 15 year olds were regular smokers. [5] The rate of child smoking experimentation remains almost static with 19% of 11-15 year olds having smoked at least once. This is slightly up from the 18% recorded in 2014 [4], but much lower than the 39% in 2006. [5]

These declines are the result of a long period of evidence-based tobacco policies including prohibiting advertising, promotion and sponsorship of all tobacco products and making tobacco less affordable which continues to deliver benefits.

Commenting on the findings, ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott said:

This report shows that England continues to head in the right direction when it comes to youth smoking. However, we need to do more to get adult smokers to quit. It is the higher rates of adult smoking in poorer communities that are the main reason for lower life expectancy.  The Tobacco Control Plan must be fully implemented and adequately funded if we are to succeed in tackling the burning injustice that those born poor die on average nine years earlier.”

This marks only the second time the survey has assessed the use of electronic cigarettes among 11-15 year olds. More children (25%) have tried e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes (17%), continuing a pattern which was already established in 2014 when 18% had tried smoking compared to 22% who had tried e-cigarettes. The vast majority of those who tried e-cigarettes had also tried smoking. Among those who had never smoked, e-cigarette experimentation remained very low at 11%, the same as in 2014. This supports the recent findings of a large scale analysis of surveys of the behaviour of 60,000 young people in the UK which gives little credence to the theory that e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway to smoking tobacco. [6]

Deborah Arnott added:

“We need to keep monitoring but it’s encouraging that since 2009 the proportion of children aged 15 smoking has fallen year on year. Reassuringly experimentation with electronic cigarettes remains low and doesn’t appear to be leading to regular use.”


Notes and links
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.

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information contact ASH on 020 7404 0242 or out of hours Deborah Arnott on 07976 935 987 or Hazel Cheeseman on 07754 358 593.



[1] Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among young people in England 2016. NHS Digital, September 2017. Chapter 2 tables – smoking prevalence. Table 2.3

[2] Towards a smokefree generation: tobacco control plan for England. Department of Health, July 2017.

[3] The study defined a regular smoker as smoking at least one cigarette per week

[4] Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among young people in England 2014. NHS Digital, 2015

[5] Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among young people in England 2006. NHS Digital, 2007

[6] Bauld L et al Young People’s Use of E-Cigarettes across the United Kingdom: Findings from Five Surveys 2015-2017, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2017, 14, 29 August 2017