ONS survey: Smoking halves in 40 years

Smoking Smoking rates have dropped in the past 40 years

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Then 'news' organisations & governments wonder why an increasing number of people don't believe a word they say...lol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Post No. 95 was spot on, take the sales figures for a more accurate picture, include a guesstimate for imports both legal and illegal. It was said some years ago that 75% of rolling tobacco exported to Europe returned here, one way or another.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    @106 I don't smoke but if I stood next to a smoker then I can only blame myself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    For those people arguing that smoking is a choice and therefore those who smoke should stop, where does that end. Of course its a choice and so I choose to do it. Fascist taxation and OTT propaganda has put it in some peoples minds that its fine to be told what you can and can not enjoy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    GOD the deamonising of the unemployed has taken on a new dimension !! What next ? there more likely to have HIV ?"

    Why do you say that? If you have no income of your own, why would you spend it on something totally unnecessary and harmful? More importantly, why should the rest of us subsidise that habit? The clear lack of sense of priority probably explains why they're unemployed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Hmm... why did the BBC pick on this bit of the report - other statistics in this survey are far more reliable and much more important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    As alcohol and tobacco sales have been taxed and thus quantified for donkey's years and the government has a rough idea as to the population (not including illegal immigrants) living in the UK, it would be a child's task to calculate consumption per capita year on year. Such figures would give a vastly more accurate indication rather than using inaccurate information provided in surveys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    82@ Mark

    Hi Mark

    UK residents have no control over air pollutants from overseas as they are subject to the weather. UK smokers have control over their air pollutants as they can stop. My point, you have no idea who may have died from passive smoke you have created, if you do smoke. Smokers have no choice in who dies from thier passive smoking but they have a choice if some one is going to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    A big tip for anyone giving up do not buy your lottery tickets at supermarkets go to your corner shop were you can still see the price of a packet of fags its a big help that warm smug feeling of im glad I do not smoke anymore

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Smoking is like the communist attack on religion

    It only LOOKS like "they've won"

    The moment people get back to living in a free society smoking will increase hugely, especially in pubs, and the true picture will become apparent

    Smoking rates will only stay low as long as our overlords spread fear and prejudice and back it up with a jackboot

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    The only thing that got me to stop cigarettes was the wonderful invention of vaping - electronically-delivered, pharmaceutical grade nicotine. No government campaign or increase in price has ever helped me quit. Gum and patches do not work.
    Vaping does. Funny how it's not being embraced by the authorities.
    Watch out, it could be your tea and coffee next - they're enjoyable mild stimulants too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I feel bad for the unemployed who won't have much money for there other essentials as they have to spend money on cigarettes. The Government should have a smoking benefit allowance, like how people get child benefits, so they can still afford stuff they need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Is this report is just a biased load of mumbo jumbo?

    Interesting though that a far higher % of smoking men have quit 51% down to 21% than women smokers down from 41% to 19%.
    I wonder how much tax that has cost the government & how many pubs closed because of action taken.

    ""There is more work to be done educating the public..."
    who pays these people to "educate" us?

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Hang on... Did the BBC not report earlier this week that drinking is being massively under reported? That when sales and reported consumption are compared that they do not match up? So self reported data cannot be trusted... Until this report apparently...

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    What are the tobacco companies doing to correct this situtaion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    There's an amusing irony in these figures. If you get them together with reduced petrol and diesel sales you will understand why government borrowing exceeds projections.

    Transport fuel, alcohol, and tobacco taxation are significant proportion of the government's income; less revenue via these channels mean the healthy green folk must pay more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    My late neighbour smoked & drank a bit from age 14 until she died aged 86 from a fall. But my sister never smoked never drank alcohol never worked in any smoke ate well & generally lived a healthy life but she died aged 53 absolutely riddled with cancer from tip to toe! I can point to many more similar examples ....When your number is up it's up regardless I reckon!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Fewer people ADMIT to smoking & drinking due to the persistent message that the powers that be think it's bad. Look at the tobacco/alcohol sales to get a more honest picture of our habits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    The detail in this reports shows clearly that smokers are twice as prevalent in the unemployed and the low paid who get much or all of their income from the taxpayer in the first place: smoking simply returns some of that to the taxpayer. Take this out of the taxes raised & the alleged "subsidy" smokers give the rest of us and the NHS is non-existent, especially considering other costs of smoking.


Page 10 of 15


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.