Smoking Trends 2020

Is the nation stubbing out this hazy habit?

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Photo by Andres Siimon on Unsplash

Smoking has been one of the nation's biggest causes of illness and death for decades, but will the rising popularity of vaping solve these problems or merely create new issues of its own? We asked our panel about their attitudes to smoking and vaping, and whether they are planning to cut down or cut out smoking in 2020.

The latest study by NHS England (published July 2019, based on data from 2017-2019) showed that 489,300 hospital admissions per year were attributable to smoking, representing 4% of all hospital admissions. Blackpool and Sunderland had the highest rates for smoking attributable hospital admissions, both recording rates above 2,900 per 100,000 population.

Deaths attributed to smoking are steady year on year at 16% of all deaths in England, which was 77,800 people in 2017. Men are particularly at risk, with one in five men dying of diseases attributed to smoking. Five men die of diseases attributed to smoking for every three women. Smoking greatly raises the risk of certain diseases, and was deemed to be the cause of disease in 48% of all deaths from respiratory diseases and 54% of deaths from cancers that could be attributed to smoking. Nearly 9 out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes or second-hand smoke exposure.

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14.4% of adults were current cigarette smokers in 2018, a small decrease from 14.9% in 2017. Surprisingly, 10.6% of pregnant women continued to smoke right up until birth, down from 15.8% in 2006/7.

We conducted our own survey with findings from a cross-section of our exclusive panel of consumers, OpinionHive.

We asked our panel if they would currently identify themselves as smokers of nicotine products, whether in the form of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, shisha, or e-cigarettes. 20% told us that they smoke, 51% are non-smokers, and the remaining 29% are ex-smokers.

We asked our smokers how often they smoke, where they are likely to smoke, and if they are trying to quit tobacco for good, we asked our non-smokers why they choose not to smoke, and we also asked our panel if they have tried vaping, and whether they think it is better for you than tobacco.

Demographic breakdown of smokers and ex-smokers (including e-cigarettes)

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Of those ex-smokers, the majority (55%) had given up more than 10 years ago with just 12% having quit in the last two years.

When asked which type of cigarettes they smoke, manufactured cigarettes are most popular (54%), followed by hand-rolled cigarettes (43%) which are often the cheaper way to smoke. E-cigarettes are next (39%), though some people still prefer to smoke cigars (7%) and pipes (3%).

Of those who smoke manufactured cigarettes, 10% smoke at least 20 per day, 50% smoke at least 10 per day, and only 18% smoke fewer than four cigarettes a day. At an average cost per pack of £10.80, that is quite an investment for a lot of people.

46% of vapers whip out their tools for a smoke more than 10 times per day, with just 17% vaping only once or twice in a day.

Smoking is part of the morning ritual for most of our smokers, with 80% having their first smoke of the day within an hour of waking up, 59% within half an hour, and 24% lighting up within only five minutes, barely out of bed.

Why do we smoke?

When asked why they smoke, our audience quoted reasons such as stress reduction, confidence, enjoyment, addiction, being sociable, and to help with anxiety or depression.

Why do you smoke?

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Inside or out?

Probably due to the increase in education about the effects of smoking and associated health risks for you, your kids, and pets from exposure to second-hand smoke, more people have taken their habit outside, or at least to the back door.

When you smoke indoors, your second-hand smoke lingers in the air. You can’t see or smell it, but it’s there. Even if you air out a room after smoking, you might freshen up the air, but the fibres of sofas and curtains will have soaked up carcinogens and will slowly release them back into the room.

  • Every time you smoke, you breathe out second-hand smoke, 85% of which is invisible and odourless.
  • Children exposed to second-hand smoke are more at risk of coughs, colds, ear problems, and chest infections.

Non-smokers are more likely to worry about passive smoking with 80% agreeing that passive smoke was harmful, versus 59% of ex-smokers and just 35% of smokers.

Vapers are more than happy to vape indoors with 64% admitting to vaping in the house and only 19% wrapping up and going outdoors.

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To vape or not to vape?

That is the question. Only 12% of our panel believe that vaping is better for your health than smoking, with 50% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that pass electricity through vape fluid to produce a cloud of vapor that is then inhaled like cigarette smoke. They often look like chunky pens, but more expensive models are small boxes with buttons and dials for customizing your vaping experience. There are hundreds of brands, and they're often marketed as a way to get your nicotine fix without the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Is vaping bad for you?

The active ingredient of vape fluid is nicotine, the same chemical that makes traditional tobacco products addictive. Stopping vaping can have the same withdrawal effects as stopping smoking tobacco products.

Nicotine has been shown to have harmful effects on people of all ages. It can damage the growth of unborn babies, and all medical advice warns pregnant women to avoid exposure to nicotine. In children and young adults, it can affect brain development, reducing memory and attention, and in older people, research has shown that it may harden your arteries, increasing risk of heart disease.

Vaping in school is increasingly more common and 73% of people did not think that it is okay for 17-18-year-olds to vape, with 33% agreeing that vaping is a problem in schools. When it comes to advertising, 53% think that vaping is marketed to a younger audience and 58% agree that it is addictive.

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When it comes to partners who smoke this is a big no-no, with 64% of people indicating that smoking is not ok when it comes to your better half.

55% of people do not like walking through clouds of cigarette smoke, and 76% of you think that fines should be better enforced for people who litter the streets with spent cigarette butts.

Of those surveyed, 29% found the habit enjoyable with 44% not really finding it a pleasant activity at all. It is agreed by 85% of the panel that smoking can take years off your life expectancy and 92% indicated that their health is important to them.

Which is worse: smoking, vaping, or drinking?

Only 30% believe that drinking alcohol is better for your health than smoking, and 44% think that vaping is a good way to quit smoking cigarettes.

Overall, our panel had a negative opinion (22%) or very negative opinion (27%) about e-cigarettes, with only 5% of people thinking very positively about them.

Should the Government do more to help people quit?

There are a number of ways that you can quit smoking. We asked whether the British Government could be doing more to help people quit, and 70% of respondents felt that they could be doing more to help.

Only 2% of our panel had turned to the NHS for support, Nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum and sprays are popular among 17% of the panel, but 37% have turned to vaping as an alternative to quitting smoking altogether.

45% of people feel that smokers should be paying more for their healthcare, with 46% feeling that cigarettes should be banned altogether to solve the real-life problems that they cause.

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Smoking does appear to be decreasing with action, according to Cancer Research UK, as they report that the number of smokers has significantly declined since 1954, stemming from increasing public awareness of the links between lung cancer and smoking.

In 2007, smoking was banned in all workplaces, including restaurants, bars and clubs, then in 2015 it was extended to include vehicles carrying children.

Advertising has been the main target of anti-smoking campaigners in recent years. TV adverts were banned in 1965, but it wasn't until 2005 that billboards were also banned. Tobacco products were hidden from view in shops in 2012, but the biggest change came in 2017, when tobacco product packaging was standardised to remove all branding and advertising, replaced with health warnings and graphic images of smoking associated diseases. At the same time, smaller packs were outlawed to make the habit more inconvenient and expensive.

70% of our panel do not think that cigarette companies should be allowed to advertise, with 55% of people thinking that taxes should be further increased for smokers and producers.

Image by Cancer Research UK


27% of our smokers are trying to quit, 40% are trying to cut down and 33% of people are happy continuing to smoke.

When asked why they are trying to quit, respondents mention: health, children, money, pregnancy, cost, smell, and loss of a family member.

Why did you give up smoking?

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Some of the benefits experienced from those who gave up were a better sense of taste and smell (68%), whiter teeth (31%), less stress (17%), healthier weight (19%) and skin (32%), better breath (64%) and improved fertility (2%).

Download your smoking fact sheet here.
You can access additional surveys and fact sheets in our knowledge centre.

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