ONS survey: Smoking halves in 40 years

Smoking Smoking rates have dropped in the past 40 years

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Smoking in Britain has more than halved and people are drinking on fewer nights of the week, according to a snapshot survey covering the past 40 years.

The General Lifestyle Survey indicates 45% of adults smoked in 1974 compared with 20% in 2011.

The proportion of men who said they drank alcohol at least five days a week fell from 22% in 2005 to 16% in 2011.

The proportion of women drinking five days a week dropped from 13% to 9% over the same period.

There have been repeated campaigns to reduce smoking, which can cause heart problems and lung cancer.

The role of smoking in society has changed significantly, with smoking bans in the work-place coming into force across the UK and bans on cigarette advertising.

Smoking now looks less of a male-dominated habit. Men are still more likely to be smokers - 21% of men now smoke compared with 19% of women. However, back in 1974 the gulf was much larger - 51% of men and 41% of women.

Start Quote

Of those that do drink, the harms are increasing - and they take time to show themselves...”

End Quote Prof Alan Maryon-Davis Kings College London

The statistics suggest married people are less likely to smoke than singles, and the unemployed are more likely to smoke than their neighbours in work.

Older people are more likely to have a regular drink, the data indicates. Men and women aged 45 and above are more likely to drink alcohol on five or more days each week than younger generations.

The most significant changes in the past decade were in 16-24-year-olds.

In young men, the proportion drinking more than four units on their biggest drinking session of the week fell from 46% to 32% between 2005 and 2011. There was a similar pattern in women.

However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures do not look at the amount drinkers are consuming overall. This is thought to be 40% higher now than it was 40 years ago, despite a drop since 2004.

Raising awareness

Alan Maryon-Davis, honorary professor of public health at King's College London, said the figures for alcohol and smoking were very encouraging, but there was still a long way to go.

"There is more work to be done educating the public about the dangers of drink. We haven't got labelling of drinks right and there is work to be done in terms of drinks promotions and the use of social media to target young people.

"There are also issues over price and availability. We need to get rid of really cheap discounts on alcohol."

While hospital admissions for alcohol-related diseases were still high, Prof Maryon-Davis said, there was no room for complacency.

"Of those that do drink, the harms are increasing - and they take time to show themselves."

Commenting on the survey's findings, Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the significant decline in the numbers of people smoking in Britain over the last 40 years was "a testament to the effectiveness of combined legislation and awareness raising in tackling what is Britain's leading cause of preventable illness and premature death".

But she added: "The uptake of smoking by young people and childhood exposure to second hand smoke both, however, remain areas of concern."

"It is encouraging to see measures such as banning smoking in cars when children are present and introduction of standardised packaging for cigarettes being seriously considered by this government."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    How exactly do they get these figures. I smoke but don't buy from UK retailers, I've not told any official body that I smoke, am I included in the smoking numbers. Being a bad lad I also drink, anyone asks me how much I'll tell them what they want to hear. Alcohol sales are up, yet fewer people are drinking at about the recommended levels. Only the ONS can believe these figures & financial ones

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    As a non-smoker for almost a year, I often wonder why I wasted 42 years doing it. Anyone young reading this, don't start. Anyone smoking reading this - it's really not all its cracked up to be. Do yourself a favour and quit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    How does someone like me who smokes about 6 cigarettes a month show on these categories. Am I deemed to be a smoker and in the same category as someone who smokes 60 a day. Surely the figures would be better saying the number of cigarettes on average each person in the UK smokes. Wouldn't that be a better statistic

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I think governments overestimate the success of their measures. The public smoking ban probably did little to deter smokers. Likewise with other 'seen to be doing something' measures like labeling on packets.

    Such measures presume, falsely, that one can force an addict to quit.

    Where they have succeeded is in education. Once people are fully aware of the risks it's then just down to choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The government is banning free choice and making it harder for people to have choices. I agree that banning smoking from public areas was good. That was enough!!
    Raising prices drinking/smoking doesn't stop the problem it means that bootleggers have more valuable goods and makes it a more viable business. The problem is culture rather than price, us Brits don't know how to drink sensibly.


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