Action on Smoking and Health

Tag Archives: ONS

Smoking rates at a record low: but not for poorer or pregnant smokers  

3rd July 2018

Smoking rates at a record low: but not for poorer or pregnant smokers

Overall smoking rates for 2017 have just been published for England, and are at all-time low of 14.9%, down from 19.3% just five years ago [1]. This brings the estimated number of smokers in England in 2017 to 6.1 million, 1.6 million fewer than in 2011. This progress is thanks to the world-leading strategy implemented by successive Governments to support more people to quit and prevent children from taking up smoking.

However, the new figures also reveal that there is no room for complacency. Action is urgently needed to address the lack of progress in reducing smoking rates among pregnant women and the growing gap in smoking rates between rich and poor.

One in four people in routine and manual occupations smoke compared to one in ten in professional and managerial occupations. The data published today shows that this gap is widening over time, not reducing in line with the ambition set out in the Tobacco Control Plan for England published last year [2]. The Government is also failing to meet its target for reducing smoking in pregnancy, with smoking rates stuck at 11% for the last three years.

Deborah Arnott chief executive of health charity ASH said:

“ASH supports the Government’s vision, set out in the Tobacco Control Plan for England, of a smokefree generation. But smoking must become history for all of society not just for the wealthy. Cuts in public health funding and lack of treatment for smoking on the NHS mean poorer more heavily addicted smokers, including those who are pregnant, are not getting the help they need to quit.” 

The Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group has today published a report [3] setting out its recommendations for ensuring that the Government target is met, of reducing smoking in pregnancy to 6% or less by 2022. Key is ensuring the right support is integrated into NHS care, something all smokers would benefit from.

Commenting on the report, Francine Bates, Chief Executive, The Lullaby Trust and Co-Chair of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group said:

“This report should be a wake-up call. On the current trajectory, the Government will miss its ambition to reduce rates of smoking among pregnant women with tragic consequences. We have made real progress in the past in helping women to have smokefree pregnancies and we must be ambitious about what can be achieved in the future to protect thousands of families from entirely preventable and heartbreaking outcomes.” 

The full report and recommendations are available here. This includes a new analysis of the number of deaths of babies and other adverse health outcomes which would be avoided if government targets for the reduction in smoking in pregnancy were achieved.

Last week the Royal College of Physicians published a report calling for support to smokers to be fully embedded throughout the NHS with the potential to save thousands of lives and millions of pounds [4]. Stepping up the care provided by the NHS would help to address the the big differences in smoking rates between social groups.


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] NHS Digital 

[2] Department of Health, Towards a Smokfree Generation; Tobacco Control Plan for England, 2017

[3] Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group, A Review of the Challenge, 2018
Full report:  
Press release:

[4] Royal College of Physicians, Hiding in plain sight; treating tobacco dependency in the NHS, 2018  

Smoking prevalence by local authority in England in 2012-2016

This interactive visual was created by the ONS. It illustrates smoking prevalence in every local authority in England, as well as a breakdown by gender. The tool also shows how smoking rates have changed over the period from 2012-2016.