Smoking rates in the United Kingdom are at their lowest point in almost 50 years, and many experts believe it’s due to e-cigarettes. As of 2015, only 17.2 percent of British adults are smoking, and more than a million UK citizens say they have used or are using e-cigarettes to help them quit.
Breaking down the smoking rates by country, England has the lowest smoking rate at only 16.9 percent. Wales stands at 18.1 percent, while Northern Ireland and Scotland are nearly tied at 19 percent and 19.1 percent respectively.
Half of the UK’s e-cigarette users said they started vaping to help them quit smoking. The other half were split on their reasons, with 22 percent saying they switched to vaping because it is less harmful and only around 10 percent saying they chose vaping because it is cheaper or because it is allowed indoors when smoking isn’t.
These statistics contrast the dire warnings coming from anti-vaping camps, especially in America, that claim that e-cigarettes are drawing teenagers who never smoked in droves to try out the flavors. In addition, the UK data shows that teenagers are the second age group least likely to be vaping, with only people over the age of 60 having lower e-cigarette rates. Most of the nation’s e-cigarette users are between the ages of 35 and 49.
While the UK does have its share of e-cigarette skeptics who believe that vaping is a gateway to smoking or has other unknown dangers, the country at large tends to see vaping as having great potential to improve the health of smokers. Public Health England has stated that using e-cigarettes is 95 percent safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes. The organization encouraged the British government to recommend e-cigarettes as an alternative for smokers, and also suggested that one day e-cigarettes could be dispensed as a licensed medicine for smoking cessation.
While smoking rates in Britain have been declining sharply, health officials say more needs to be done. Action on Smoking and Health, an organization started in 1971 by the Royal College of Physicians, says that the government needs to create a new tobacco control plan with information campaigns in order to continue the downward trend in smoking rates. On its website, ASH states that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking and that they compare favorably to other smoking cessation aids like patches. A downloadable fact sheet on e-cigarettes also states that there is no evidence that e-cigarette use leads to smoking. The fact sheet also talks about the levels of nicotine and other toxins in e-cigarettes, stating that these levels are so low that they will not cause any harm. Specifically, there is an explanation of why “second hand vapor” is not a hazard.
The ASH statement on e-cigarettes addresses and dispels all of the myths that anti-vaping groups use to generate fear and get vape-restrictive laws passed. While the United States and some other countries seem to be doing everything they can to prevent smokers from switching to vaping, the United Kingdom is watching smoking rates decline as they encourage e-cigarette use for the good of public health.