Decline in cigarettes smoked per day is stalling

A decade-long decline in the number of cigarettes a person who smokes has per day is at risk, a new Cancer Research UK study has revealed.  

The steady reduction seen up to 2019 has now stalled, and some people actually smoke more. 

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have found that the average person who smokes dropped from smoking 14 cigarettes per day in January 2008 to 11 cigarettes per day in October 2019. But the number hasn’t budged since.  

And people who smoke daily are getting through an extra cigarette every day now compared to 2019. 

“This 15-year study captures shifts in smoking behaviour, showing that while the average number of cigarettes smoked per day has fallen, this trend has stalled since 2019,” said Dr Sarah Jackson, lead author of the paper and principal research fellow at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care.  

“People are increasingly opting to use cheaper hand-rolled tobacco over more expensive manufactured cigarettes, proving that consistency in the taxation and regulation across all cigarette types is key.” 

The fight isn’t over

Across the population there are still 45.5 million cigarettes smoked every day in England, down from 77.1 million per day in 2011.  

So, while we have made progress, this study shows that the fight against tobacco is far from over. 

The study also showed that the average person who smokes is having 35% more hand-rolled cigarettes (up from 4 to 6 per day), and 47% fewer manufactured cigarettes (down from 10 to 5 per day). This trend was seen between January 2008 to September 2023.    

Researchers speculated that this shift is likely down to affordability of cigarette types driven by greater tax increases on manufactured cigarettes and exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.  

“Some groups across England still smoke more heavily than others,” Jackson added. “It’s vital that smoking cessation services are made easily and equally available across the UK, so that those who want to quit smoking are given all the support they need to do so.”   

The right side of history

Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer in the UK, causing around 150 cases every day.  

Cancer Research UK is calling for continued funding for smoking cessation services nationwide, and for the Government’s landmark Tobacco and Vapes Bill to be moved swiftly through Parliament and implemented as soon as possible.   

Right now, the UK Government is set to miss its own target of being smokefree by 2030 by nine years and Cancer Research UK analysis shows that the most deprived 10% of the population in England won’t be smokefree until after 2050.   

“This study makes it clear that the UK Government must not let up in its fight to reduce smoking,” said Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy. 

“All tobacco products are harmful, and more work needs to be done to end cancers caused by smoking for good. 

“By voting in favour of the age of sale legislation, MPs have positioned the UK as a world leader in tobacco control. Now, it’s vital that MPs continue to listen to the demands of their constituents and place themselves on the right side of history.  

“The Bill must be passed through Parliament swiftly and implemented so we can begin to reap the benefits of a smokefree future.” 


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