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Smoking prevalence goes on falling as UK hits record number of e-cigarette users

The UK has more vapers than ever, with 4.3m people 8.3% of all adults using e-cigarettes, according to figures released by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

The Smokefree GB survey, carried out for the charity every year by survey company YouGov, reveals findings collected in February and March. It shows significant growth in the number of adult vapers, up from 7.1% (3.7m people) in 2021, and from 1.7% (0.8m people) in 2010, when the survey was carried out for the first time.

The survey, which aims to analyse changes in vaping behaviour and attitudes, found over half (57%) of UK vapers aged 18 and above are former cigarette smokers, with around 8.1% being never smokers and the remainder being dual users. Among the former smokers, nearly 30% started using e-cigarettes as a quitting tool, while almost 20% said they vaped to avoid relapsing.

“When current e-cigarette users who are ex-smokers are asked for their main reason for vaping, the most frequently cited reasons are: to help them quit, as an aid to keep them off tobacco, because they enjoy it and to save money,” the survey report says.

Among dual users of both e-cigarettes and combustibles, the most common reason for vaping (17%) was to cut down tobacco intake, while others including saving money and attempting to quit. “Those who vape every day smoke on average less than those who vape less frequently than daily,” the report adds.


Link between vaping rise and smoking decline


The report highlights that, based on the Annual Population Survey, smoking prevalence among UK adults dropped by over a quarter between 2011 and 2019, from 20.2% to 14.1%, which can be partly attributed to a comprehensive tobacco control strategy.

Another survey, the monthly Smoking Toolkit Study, however, has highlighted a link between smoking cessation rates and vaping prevalence.

The Ash study reports that while refillable tanks are still the main devices used by 65% of the interviewees, this is down from 77% in 2021. At the same time, almost half (48%) of current e-cigarette users aged 18-24 now use disposables – a strikingly steep rise from just 2.8% in 2021.

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    “Younger adults are mostly driving the increase in 2022 in using disposable e-cigarettes as the main type of e-cigarette,” the report says. “In 2022, disposable e-cigarettes are also the most common main device type among 11-17 year-old e-cigarette users.”

    The study also looked into the effects of the 20 mg/ml nicotine cap currently in place in the UK, amid concerns that it may be preventing smokers from switching to vaping.


    Effects of nicotine cap


    “Some stakeholders have expressed concerns that the cap on nicotine levels imposed by the Tobacco Products Directive could be discouraging use among smokers with the highest levels of addiction,” the report says.

    Before the threshold was introduced in 2016, one in ten vapers surveyed by Ash used liquids with a nicotine concentration above 18 mg/ml. A year later less than 6% of vapers were using liquids above the 20 mg/ml limit, and that proportion dropped to 1% in 2019.

    This year, less than 1% of vapers were using nicotine strengths above the legal cap, the survey revealed, while half were continuing to use the same strength as when they started and nearly 40% had decreased the strength.

    “The ASH survey suggests that the current nicotine cap of 20 mg/ml is not a problem for the majority of e-cig users who use e-liquid containing nicotine, as they are using strengths well under the legal limit,” the report concludes.

    Tiziana Cauli ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Jhoan Cordoba

    Tiziana Cauli

    Senior reporter
    Tiziana is an Italian journalist from Sardinia. She has worked for both international and local media in Italy, South Africa, France, Spain, the UK, Lebanon and Belgium. She also worked as a communications manager for several international NGOs in the humanitarian sector. Tiziana holds a degree in Political Science and a PhD in African Studies from the University of Cagliari and she’s a graduate of the Carlo De Martino school of journalism in Milan.

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