Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, killing about 100,000 people each year. Reducing the number of smokers is therefore a key priority in improving the health of the population, and smoking cessation services are a major NHS intervention to reduce smoking.

Although the prevalence of smoking in the UK has declined (from 20% in 2011 to 14% in 2019), the health effects of smoking remain a major public health problem. NHS Smoking Stop Services offers intensive group therapy or one-on-one support to help people quit smoking. Their effectiveness can be measured by the percentage of people who say they do not smoke at all after two weeks of quitting after a four-week follow-up.

The percentage of people using NHS smoking cessation services who reported success in quitting smoking within four weeks remained fairly stable between 2007/08 and 2019/20 and fluctuated by about 50%.

Preliminary data for the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, which covers April-September 2020, show that the percentage of people who say they have succeeded in quitting smoking has risen to 58%. This may reflect concerns that smokers have an increased risk of more severe Covid-19 symptoms. Surveys from pandemic surveys show that more than a million people in the UK have stopped smoking since the start of the pandemic, and a public awareness campaign was launched in July 2020 to encourage more smokers to quit.

We can also measure the level of carbon monoxide in the blood to get an indication of the level of tobacco use. The number of “carbon monoxide denials” is significantly lower, indicating a tendency for self-reported information to be biased. In 2019/20, 51% of people using NHS smoking cessation services reported quitting within four weeks, but this was confirmed by only carbon monoxide testing among 32% of service users. In March 2020, carbon monoxide monitoring was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. From January 2021, the guidelines state that face-to-face smoking cessation support may be restored, but remote consultations may remain the best option. Public Health UK recommends that carbon monoxide monitoring be continued wherever face-to-face consultations are conducted.

For eight consecutive years, the number of people who set a smoking cessation date using NHS smoking cessation services has dropped from 816,444 in 2011/12 to 221,678 in 2019/20. see section). Between 2018/19 and 2019/20, the number of people setting a retirement date decreased by 6%.

The decline in recent years may be partly due to an increase in the use of e-cigarettes, which are widely available outside of Smoking Cessation Services. According to the Opinion and Lifestyle Survey, the percentage of people aged 16 and over who currently use e-cigarettes in the UK has risen from 3.7% in 2014 to 6.3% in 2018, but since then, In 2019, it decreased slightly to 5.7%.

NHS Smoking Cessation Services was first established in 1999/2000 to reduce health inequality and improve the health of the local population. This indicator shows how much smoking changes due to deprivation. In 2019, 16.9% of people aged 18 and over were smokers in the most deprived areas, while in the least deprived areas this figure is only 9.1% (data cannot be compared to previous years , for more information, see “About this information”).

Since 2011, the percentage of current smokers has decreased at all levels of territorial deprivation. From the 9 percentage point difference in 2011 to the 8.2 percentage point difference in 2018, the difference in the prevalence of smoking among the most and least deprived areas has also decreased.

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Survey (SDD) among young people asks high school students aged 7-11 in the UK about tobacco use. If students smoked at least once a week, they were categorized as regular smokers. In July 2017, the UK Tobacco Control Plan set a national ambition to reduce the number of 15-year-olds who smoke regularly by 8% to 3% or less by the end of 2022.

Between 2000 and 2018, the proportion of 15-year-old students who regularly smoked decreased from 23% to 5.3%. In general, more 15-year-old girls are regular smokers than 15-year-old boys. To reach the 2022 target, the proportion of young people who smoke should be reduced by 2.3 percentage points.

About this information

This indicator uses data from NHS Digital, the UK’s National Statistics Office for e-cigarette use, the UK Public Health and the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Abuse Survey (SDD) on smoking inequality.

NHS Smoking Services

  • Successful refusal (expressed): If a person says that he did not smoke at all two weeks after the date of quitting, he is considered to have successfully quit smoking after four weeks of follow-up.
  • Successful discharge (confirmed by carbon monoxide test): Measurement of carbon monoxide levels in the blood provides an indication of the level of tobacco use. This is both a means of motivation and a confirmation of the smoking situation. This should be tried on all people who report a successful four-week follow-up, except for those tracked over the phone.

The NHS Digital Data for 2016/17 cannot be directly compared to previous years because they have not been adapted for assessment for local governments that do not provide any data or only provide data for certain quarters. Data on the percentage of current e-cigarette users can be compared over time.

Smoking inequality

Local Tobacco Control Profiles use the Annual Population Survey (APS) data to calculate the prevalence of smoking in adults 18 and older. The number of respondents is measured by taking into account the design and non-response of the survey to increase the representativeness of the sample. Deprivation rates until 2019 were determined using the 2015 Multiple Deprivation Index scores of local governments. Since 2019, the Multiple Deprivation Index 2019 local government scores have been used, so the data cannot be compared to previous years.

Examples of smoking among young people

The SDD survey, published by NHS Digital, is a biennial survey of high school students aged 7-11 (mostly 11-15) in the UK. The last survey was conducted in 2018. Prior to 2014, the survey was conducted annually.

Students were divided into three categories based on their answers:

  • regular smokers (usually defined as at least one smoker per week);
  • casual smokers (usually defined as those who smoke less than once a week); or
  • non-smokers.

The government’s ambition to reduce the number of 15-year-olds who smoke regularly by 3% or less by the end of 2022 will be measured by the SDD survey.