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Facts About Smoking In The UK



Looking for facts on smoking? Find facts, figures and statistics about smoking and cigarette usage in the UK below, including a brief look at the history of smoking and tobacco products.

The history of smoking and tobacco in the UK

Tobacco was introduced to the UK from the “New World” in the 16th century.

  • The accepted “official” date of the arrival of tobacco in England is 27th July 1586, when Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have brought tobacco from Virginia. However, it is likely that tobacco had been introduced before then, as Portuguese and Spanish sailors had smoked tobacco for many years prior, likely sharing this with English sailors too.1
  • The first commercial shipment of tobacco was sent to England from Jamestown in 1614. By then there were an estimated 7,000 tobacconist shops in London.2
  • In 1619, King James I ordered that all tobacco must enter the country via London in order to maintain control over imports. During this time, tobacco was primarily consumed through a pipe.
  • Cigarette smoking rose in popularity after the outbreak of WWI, as pre-packaged cigarettes were easier to consume in trench conditions.3 British soldiers and sailors smoked 1,000 tons of cigarettes and 700 tons of pipe tobacco in 1915.4

Smoking laws and regulations in the UK

There are many laws and regulations on the advertising, sale and consumption of tobacco in the UK which have developed over time. Some of the most significant laws and regulations are listed below:

  • Tobacco advertising is heavily regulated in the UK. Starting with an advertising ban on TV and radio, over time, legislation restricting advertising has progressively expanded. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 banned advertising in print media including newspapers and magazines, leaflets, flyers, posters, billboards and more.5
  • In 2007 it was made illegal to smoke in indoor places of work in the UK. This includes pubs, bars, offices, public transport and other indoor public places.6

Smoking prevalence in the UK

The number of people who smoke tobacco in the UK has been declining steadily for some years.7

  • In 2019 the adult smoking prevalence in the UK was 14.1%, which is around 6.9 million people. In 2018, smoking prevalence was 14.7%.
  • More men in the UK smoke than women, with 15.9% of men smoking in 2019 and 12.5% of women.
  • By age bracket, the highest proportion of smokers in 2019 were aged 25 to 34, at 19%.
  • Of the UK nations, in 2019, 15.6% of adults in Northern Ireland smoked, 15.5% in Wales, 15.4% in Scotland, and 13.9% of adults in England.

The rise of alternatives to smoking in the UK

Increased regulations, broader understanding of the health impacts of cigarette smoke and the advancement of technology have led to alternatives to cigarettes becoming more and more commonplace in the UK.

  • E-cigarettes were first introduced to the UK market in 2006.
  • The UK’s first heated tobacco product – IQOS - was launched in 2016.

Important Information: IQOS is not risk free. It delivers nicotine, which is addictive.



1https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Introduction-of-Tobacco-to-England

2https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol2/p179

3https://pointsadhs.com/2014/06/27/wwi-part-5-tobacco-in-the-trenches/

4https://www.historytoday.com/archive/smoking-first-world-war

5https://www.tobaccocontrollaws.org/legislation/country/england/aps-regulated-forms

6https://navigator.health.org.uk/theme/smoking-ban-england

7https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare
/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2019

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