Recently, the National Statistics on Smoking, England were published and the results are encouraging for the fight against tobacco-related deaths and illnesses. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in particular have been campaigning for years with the aim of creating a smoke free country so some of the facts and figures shown in the report will give them good reason for optimism.
The report goes in to depth with topics including smoking patterns in adults and children, prescription items to help quit and attitudes towards smoking. Below are some of the key findings taken from the report:
15.5% of adults aged 18 or above currently smoke, down from 19.9% in 2010.
The proportion of all hospital admissions attributed to smoking-related illness was 4% in 2015/16, down from 6% in 2005/06.
11% of mothers were smokers at the time of delivery in 2016/17, down from 15% in 2006/07.
Tobacco was 27% less affordable in 2016 than it was in 2006.
Around 5% of adults in England currently use e-cigarettes.
The fact that the number of smokers in England is 4.4% lower than it was in 2010 is a huge step in the right direction for public health in England but what are the key factors for this shift in smoking habits?
Prescribed Cessation Aids
The NHS had previously pumped huge amounts of money in to prescription items to help people quit smoking, the Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) of prescription items dispensed in England back in 2010/2011 was £65.9 million. These prescription items are primarily made up of Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs) and Varenicline, however the success of these items has been scrutinised over recent years, with many believing they play second fiddle to e-cigarettes.
This has therefore led to a huge decrease in popularity of these products with just 1.2 million being dispensed in 2015/16, compared with the 2.6 million dispensed in 2010/11 with a Net Ingredient Cost of 33.2 million. That’s almost half of what was spent in 2010/11!
So, with the general consensus being that these prescription items have been trumped by e-cigarettes, let’s see what the figures tell us. According to the Office of National Statistics, 2.4 million adults in England used e-cigarettes in 2016 and for 46% of these people, the reason was to aid them in quitting smoking. Other reasons included: ‘they are perceived less harmful than cigarettes’ and they are ‘Cheaper than tobacco products’.
This therefore suggests that 1.1 million people in England used e-cigarettes to try and help them quit smoking in 2016. While it is not stated in the statistics how many quitters could be attributed to the help of e-cigarette use the correlation of e-cigarette use and the reduction in the number of smokers is certainly a good sign.
Laws and Campaigning
Alongside e-cigarettes, new laws, taxation and anti-smoking campaigns have played an important role in reducing smoking rates in England. Regulation has become much more rigorous in relation to tobacco products over recent years. Packaging with warning messages, strict display rulings in stores and in particular, taxation have all contributed towards this reduction in smokers.
The price of tobacco has increased by 43% of the last 10 years, after adjusting this for an increase in household’s disposable income, the NHS statistics publication states that tobacco is now 27% less affordable than it was in 2006. This has therefore meant smokers have ditched tobacco due to financial reasons, however this method has seen its fair share of critics.
The highest percentage of smokers come from less developed areas with a lower income, meaning the hike in tobacco prices gives an ultimatum to these people, stop smoking or compensate by reducing the amount of money spent on necessities. This would allow these smokers to maintain the habit but would certainly affect their quality of living. So while this price increase may deter people from starting smoker and in deed encourage smokers to quit or reduce their tobacco consumption, it may have financial repercussions for those unable to ditch the habit.
This theory was intensified after the introduction of the newest tobacco regulations that came in to force in May 2017. The unavailability of 10 packs and the addition of ‘floor tax’ may mean more quitters in the future but how will it impact those who continue to smoke? Many feel as though the logic is to force people in to quitting or suffer if you do not.
While the current statistics are encouraging, there are still concerns around tobacco control and a long way to go in the fight against smoking.