By Rachel Russell
The number of people smoking in the UK dropped to its lowest level on record last year but more people were using e-cigarettes, new figures have revealed.
Data from the Office for National Statistics found around 13.3% of people aged 18 or over smoked cigarettes in 2021, down from 14.0% in 2020.
But 7.7% of those aged 16 and over said they used e-cigarettes – compared to 6.4% in 2020.
The first ONS records on smoking were in 2011 and found 20.2% had smoked.
The ONS said the latest data was a “statistically significant” drop.
The decrease in the numbers of smokers may be partly due to more people turning to electronic cigarettes, James Tucker, data and analysis for social care and health division at the ONS, said.
He said: “This is the lowest proportion of current smokers since 2011, when we began recording smoking prevalence from the annual population survey (APS).”
The ONS said that vaping devices such as e-cigarettes had played a “major role” in reducing the numbers of smoking across the UK.
It added that e-cigarette use was highest among current cigarette smokers at 25.3% and ex-cigarette smokers at 15.0%, with only 1.5% of people who have never smoked saying that they currently vape.
But it added that vaping may not be the only factor for a drop in smoking numbers.
It could also be due to increased public awareness campaigns and smoke-free places such as pubs and offices.
The government’s tobacco control plan aims to reduce smoking prevalence among adults in England to 12% or less by the end of 2022.
The UK nation with the biggest proportion of current smokers in 2021 was Scotland at 14.8%, with the lowest being England at 13.0%, the ONS added.
Elsewhere, Wales and Northern Ireland reported 14.1% and 13.8% current smokers respectively.
Men were more likely to be current smokers in 2021 with 15.1% of men smoking compared with 11.5% of women in the UK.
The highest number of current smokers was found in the 25 to 34-year-old age bracket at 15.8%, while the lowest was those aged 65 and over at 8%
The ONS said that people who had no qualifications were more likely to be current smokers at 28.2%, compared to those whose highest level of education was a degree or equivalent at 6.6%.
The NHS website says that, while not risk-free, vaping poses less of a risk than tobacco cigarettes. However, the long-term effects of vaping are not yet known.
It is against the law to sell e-cigarettes to those aged under-18.