Health: ‘The smoking battle in the UK is far from won’

The number of UK tobacco smokers aged 11 to 15 is at its lowest since 1982. Picture by Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
The number of UK tobacco smokers aged 11 to 15 is at its lowest since 1982. Picture by Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
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Those swift puffs of a cigarette around the back of the school bike sheds look to be becoming a thing of the past.

Encouraging statistics released last week by the Health and Social Care Information Centre suggest that UK school children on the whole appear to be kicking the smoking habit.

The number of children aged 11 to 15 to smoke tobacco has fallen to the lowest ever recorded level since its survey started in 1982, with just 18 per cent admitting to smoking in 2014.

The annual survey, which last year took in 6,173 pupils in 210 schools, showed that the decline that started in 2003 has continued. Back then a shocking 42 per cent of pupils had tried smoking.

But the battle is far from won. The most recent survey was the first to include questions on e-cigarettes, and found 22 per cent had tried one of the devices at least once.

Although very few went on to carry on the vaping habit regularly, the lure of smoking flavoured chemicals clearly through high-tech devices is new and growing.

Attitudes are rightly changing. The smoking ban, whether you like it or not, has exiled smokers and hard-hitting advertising and strong public health messages have forced people to face tobacco’s unhealthy truths.

Yet the e-cig phenomenon, billed as the ‘healthy’ alternative, has subtly replaced the paper cigarette with an electronic cylinder with a relatively good public profile.

Vaping should be seen as the lesser of two unnecessary evils, not a replacement for the old fashioned cigarette.

The sooner that message filters out, the better for everyone.


The use of e-cigarettes has tripled since 2012 to 2.1million users – surpassing nicotine patches as the most popular support people use to quit smoking.

The advantages of using e-cigs as an aid to stop smoking tobacco are unquestioned, although critics suggest they simply replace one addiction with another less harmful one.

The ease with which under 18s can buy e-cigs, which are not yet subject to legal age restrictions, has been stressed by Public Health England.

Tobacco smoking among over 18s in the UK is at its lowest level since 1940. Around 18.7 per cent of the population still smoke.