A look at smoking habits in the UK


Every year, the Office of National Statistics posts their yearly report on Smoking habits amongst Adults in the United Kingdom & Ireland. And the latest report has just been published looking at the data compiled in 2021.

The report looks at various different topics like smoking prevalence amongst adults in the UK and Ireland, Vaping prevalence amongst adults, demographic breakdowns, and what changes have occurred over time with people either smoking or vaping. The report is really detailed and offers a great insight. I’m going to breakdown the report and pick out important sections of it that I think will be relevant to this article.

A significant decrease in Adult smokers

The report starts by getting straight into the detail of the proportion of adult smokers in the UK. The percentage of adult smokers in the UK now sits at 13.3% which equates to 6.6 million people. This is a significant decrease in numbers when compared to the 2020 survey results, where the total amount of adult smokers was 14%!

It might not sound like a lot, but this is now the lowest amount of adult smokers there has ever been in the United Kingdom. And looking further back to what they survey conducted in 2011 recorded, it’s now a 6.9% total decrease from the 20.2% of the population that was recorded as smokers. A huge step in the right direction for a smoke free future in the United Kingdom.

In the report, they acknowledge that E-Cigarettes have played somewhat of a significant role in the last few years for the total amount of smokers dwindling down. And promise that within this article there will be a lot more detail and focus on e-cigarettes which has not been seen in previous reports. I’m going to come on to vaping prevalence a little further down in this article.

breaking cigs

Characteristics of current cigarette smokers in the UK

The report then moved on to look into the characteristics of cigarette smokers in the UK, taking a look at gender and age to see who have a higher count of smokers. As what has been the same trend since 2011, there are more Men who smoke than Women who smoke. Approximately 15.1% of men are current smokers (3.7 million) and 11.5% of women are smokers (2.9 million)

This is the case in a lot of other countries from reports similar to this one I have seen. I’m not sure why there’s always more Male smokers than female smokers, but I definitely do see a trend looking across the globe. It’s not the same in every country though, as women smokers outnumber men smokers in some African countries.

A more detailed look into the characteristics of adult smokers in the UK

The report then took a detailed look at the smoking habits of people based on specific characteristics such as relationship status, employment status, as well as what areas people lived in.

They found that one in four people who were unemployed were smokers, whereas one in eight people who were in employment were smokers. Percentage wise, those who were classed as unemployed made up 25% of current smokers, whilst those in some form of paid employment made up 13.3% of smokers.

It’s interesting to see the smoking rates being higher amongst those that are unemployed, and my personal belief is smoking is an outlet to alleviate stress and those who are unemployed may have a higher level of stress looking for work, or worrying about finances and may turn to smoking to help them.

They also took a look at smoking prevalence in different parts of the country, and it showed that smoking rates were highest in the North-East of England, whilst the lowest was in the London region of the UK.

And taking a quick look at other statistics from different reports, it shows that unemployment figures within the North-East are considerably higher than those in London, which then makes sense as to why smoking prevalence is higher in the region of the North-East than London.

people smoking and vaping

Who smokes the most?

The report looked into which part of the United Kingdom smokes the most, and breaks down the numbers for England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland and it does make for some interesting reading.

England had the lowest proportion of smokers, which was 13% and equates to 5.4 million people. Yet again, this is another huge decrease from the 2020 report, which showed 13.8% (5.7 million people) were current smokers in England. Bare in mind also, England has the largest population out of the 4, and has the lowest prevalence of smokers which is pretty good going!

Wales & Ireland are very similar in total numbers with Wales having 14.1% and Ireland having 13.8% of their populations as current smokers. Scotland comes in with the highest proportion of current smokers, with 14.8% of the total population, equating to roughly 620,000 people.

Age groups who smoke the most

Keeping up with continuing trends from previous years reports, the age group of 25-34 year olds have the highest count of smokers with 15.8% of the total number being made up by 25-34 year olds. And as usual, the Over-65 age bracket has the lowest proportion with only 8% of them making up the total.

The age group that has seen the largest reduction in smoking prevalence is 18-24 year olds, which the total has dropped from 25% in 2011, to just under 14% in 2021, which is a huge reduction of nearly 12.5%! It’s widely believed that increased taxation on tobacco products, and the prices increasing has worked to keep this age group from smoking.

However, the massive boom in popularity of Disposable Vapes has likely helped this number decrease as they are most used by this age bracket when compared to any others, which I’m going to come on to in more detail at the next part of this article!

Man Exhaling Vapour from E-Cigarette

Vaping prevalence in the United Kingdom

Yet more great news coming out of this report is the proportion of adult vapers in the United Kingdom has reached the highest number it’s ever been. 4.9% of survey respondents said they were daily users of e-cigarettes, which is an increase from 3.8% reported in 2020, so yet another huge leap forward in the right direction! 2.8% of people also admitted to using them occasionally and this took the total number of users to just over 4 million people in the UK being current E-Cigarette users.

The same trend continued as with smokers and that was more Men are active vapers than Women, and by quite some way as well. 9.7% of Men were recorded to be daily or occasional users, whilst 5.7% of Women were recorded to be daily or occasional users of E-Cigarettes.

And as mentioned above, this is the first year that the age 16-24 age bracket were the highest proportion of vapers, both daily and occasional at 11.1%. As I mentioned, this is largely down to the recent boom in sales and popularity of Disposable E-Cigarettes.

What also is interesting is the proportions of vapers was the highest amongst current cigarette smokers (25.3%) and Ex-cigarette smokers only makes up 15% of the total proportion. People who use e-cigarettes as well as cigarettes are classed as “dual-users” which is quite common for people who are either trying to quit smoking and not made the change completely to only vaping.


Overall, this year’s report on smoking prevalence and e-cigarette usage is in my opinion the best one yet, to see just how far it’s come not only over the 10 years since the report was done, but just how much things have changed in the last year. Smoking rates hitting the lowest it’s ever been and e-cigarette usage reaching the highest it’s ever been is the ideal scenario for a smoke free future being achieved.

More promotion of vaping and advocacy from the correct channels will help the number of e-cigarette users increase to more than what it is. I’m eagerly going to be awaiting next years report as I feel the amount of smokers will be condensing down even further than it already is.