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 213.


    I quite agree. The more they put them up then the more people will find the cheaper stuff which wont turn up in statistics. Incidently sales of home brewing kits have risen dramatically. Just thought id throw that one in

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    So if we believe these figures - then can the government now please shut up and leave us in peace? If you want to completely stop smoking then you will have to ban it completely and take the loss in duty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Why couldn't we do this with other drugs?
    Smoking has always been legal and since banning of advertisments and education campaigns the rates have halved and nobody has been sent to prison for using or being addicted to tobacco. Since the 1970s cannabis and other drug use has risen or stagnated, and we are handing out over 60,000 criminal records a year for cannabis possession alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    So in few years smoking gets wiped out and it will - a good thing in my opinion
    Then Alcohol will be the pariah and eventually you get that wiped out
    What next beef, eggs, white bread - the statistics will always show that something or other increases risk - do we not get to a position that living to a certain age is OK and then natural life takes its toll?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I haven't smoked in years, but most of my mates who still smoke, and there are a few of them, use imported hand rolling tobacco where no import duty is paid. Even the girls I know smoke roll ups. I don't doubt smoking is in decline, but a lot of smokers will never show up in the official statistics because they don't smoke "official" fags. That has to skew the statistics surely?

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I stopped smoking 27 years ago. If someone wants to smoke, let them however I reserve the right to ask them not to do it next to me.
    I am an alcoholic in recovery (3½ years) and again I have no problem with others drinking however I would ask those that do to be absolutely honest and just for once give a straight answer to a straight question. If you can't do that - you have a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    ... the only people I'd purposly try to upset by smoking & blowing it at them is an interfering dogooder trying to get me to stop! At mid 50's I don't need a nanny thanks!
    Cigars or a pipe (support your local pipe club!) are so much more effective in this issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Had my last ciggie, Feb 17th, 1989, day before my 40th birthday - one of the best things I have ever done. It had many false starts/"one won't hurt"s but eventually I did it.

    If I can do it ANYBODY can So, if you are a smoker, stop now, you won't regret it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Smoking has halved and now everybody is obese. Progress?

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I fully agree that smoking is a horrible habit even though I do smoke a little myself, I am always mindful of others who don't though & don't smoke around them out of respect, therefore I think my smoking is entirely my business, the only people I'd purposly try to upset by smoking & blowing it at them is an interfering dogooder trying to get me to stop! At mid 50's I don't need a nanny thanks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    I quit smoking 6 years ago, and have never been so ill in my life since, Chronic IBS, which is so painful I fall into despair when my GP...
    Sorry to hear that. Know a similar case of a guy who packed up after 40 yrs and in less than a month suffered no end of colds and flu. Died less than a year later! Twas the packing up that killed him, nowt to do with the 40yrs smoking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    And we wonder why we have a pensions crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Gave up the dreaded weed in January after finally realising that the health issues were catching up with me and that my partner and I were spending a shocking £50 a week on cigs. Haven't touched one since and neither has my partner, in fact we have both found it to be a lot easier than we were banking on. It's so nice to live in a house with unpolluted air.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    You cannot tax a problem away. Education is the best weapon but that won't make money for the coffers

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    More nudge theory being put into practice by the BBC . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Married people are less likely to smoke than singles? What sort of statement is that? I leave you to draw your conclusions as to why

  • 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 196.

    I saw the ONS rep on TV this morning.
    The dates of the stats were all over the place.
    Obviously they were choosing sets of years to prove either the best or worst case as they chose to emphasise (skew) the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Walking home through my town centre I'm always struck by how many people are standing outside shops, pubs and restaurants smoking but then I guess they can't do it inside anymore. Obviously a good thing but I do end up coughing most of the way home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    157. jon wise

    'Drinking down, my a***!'

    As the survey said drinking alcohol '... is thought to be 40% higher now than it was 40 years ago' I don't think you can claim a particular insight ... or to have read the article, to be honest.


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