Cigarette consumption in decline in the UK, showing tobacco tax works

Amid government efforts and health concerns, people are ditching cigarettes in England, with around 1.4 billion fewer cigarettes being smoked per year, according to new research funded by Cancer Research UK.

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The study, published in Jama Network Open, showed that average monthly cigarette consumption fell by nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2018. This represents around 118 million fewer cigarettes being smoked every month. Stricter tobacco laws and taking action to encourage people to quit smoking can be linked with the results.  

Based at UCL, the researchers looked at cigarette sales data for England and compared this with the monthly self-reported cigarette use of over 135,000 individuals from the Smoking Toolkit Study.

Over the period analyzed, the average number of cigarettes smoked monthly declined by 24.4% based on survey data and 24.1% based on sales data from 3.40 billion and 3.41 billion a month to 2.57 billion and 2.58 billion, respectively.

“It’s brilliant that over a billion fewer cigarettes are being sold and smoked in England every year. The decline in national cigarette consumption has been dramatic and exceeded the decline in smoking prevalence, which, over the same time period, was around 15%,” said lead author Dr Sarah Jackson.

Currently, 16% of English adults smoke cigarettes. That’s far from 1974 when almost half of the adults in the UK smoked. Now the government wants to “finish the job” and make smoking tobacco obsolete in England by 2030. This would help to deal with the daily 200 deaths from smoking-related illnesses.

In a green paper released on July 22, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) laid out its plans for a cigarette-free England. The goal will be to crack down on the industry and pledging to help smokers quit or move to reduced-risk products like e-cigarettes.

An annual YouGov survey commissioned in early 2019 by Action on Smoking and Health showed that 72% of adults were in favor of manufacturers paying a levy or license fee to help smokers quit and prevent young people from starting. About 64% of the survey participants would be in favor of inserts in tobacco products with information on how to quit

“Big tobacco said that introducing stricter regulation wouldn’t work and campaigned against it, but this is proof that smoking trends are heading in the right direction. But smoking is still the biggest preventable cause of cancer, and certain groups have much higher rates of smoking, such as routine and manual workers, so we can’t stop here and think job done,” said George Butterworth, senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK.

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