Smoking in the United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom, smoking is legally permitted, with certain conditions set from laws enacted separately in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is illegal to smoke tobacco in public places, such as restaurants, shops or pubs, under the Health Act 2006 for England and Wales, the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 for Northern Ireland and the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 for Scotland. It is also illegal to smoke in a car if one is transporting people under 18 or if a vehicle is being used for work purposes. Smoking is prevalent among a sizeable, but continuously reducing minority of the population. It has been argued that smoking puts considerable strain upon the NHS due to the health problems which can be directly linked with smoking. Successive UK Governments have endeavoured to reduce the prevalence of smoking. As part of this commitment, the NHS currently offers free help to smokers who want to quit.


In 1962, over 80% of British men and 40% of British women smoked. And as recently as 1974, 45% of the British population smoked. This was down to 30% by the early-1990s, 21% by 2010, and 19.3% by 2013; the lowest level recorded for eighty years.[1] An annual No Smoking Day has occurred in March since 1984.[2]

In 2015, it was reported smoking rates in England had fallen to just 16.9%; a record low.

In 2019, one in five Scottish people identified as smokers- equivalent to 850,000 adults. With 28% of men and 25% of women in Scotland smoking regularly as of 2018- which is higher than the rest of the UK as a whole.

It is estimated that in some parts of Scotland, that smoking rates may be as high as 47% in the most deprived communities. The UK Parliament constituency of Glasgow East, which is one of the most deprived seats in the entire United Kingdom- an estimated 40% of adults in the constituency smoke.[3] In comparison, the highest smoking prevalence in England is in Kingston upon Hull at 26.1%.[4]

The UK smoking rate had fallen to 14.4% in 2018.[5] 25 - 34 year olds still have the highest smoking rate, with approximately 1 in 5 people within this age range smoking equating to around 1.4 million smokers in the UK.[6]

Health issues[edit]

It has been estimated by Cancer Research UK that smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and early death, with around 107,000 people dying in 2007 from smoking-related diseases including cancers in the UK. Around 86% of lung cancer deaths in the UK are caused by tobacco smoking and overall tobacco smoking is estimated to be responsible for more than a quarter of cancer deaths in the UK, around 43,000 deaths in 2007.[7]

The British Medical Journal states that due to the drive to help smokers quit smoking, Britain has the world's largest reduction in the number of deaths from lung cancer. Previously in 1950, the UK had one of the highest rates in the world. The annual number of deaths from lung cancer in 2000 was half of what it was in 1965.[8]

Reducing the prevalence of smoking to 5% could avoid nearly 100,000 new cases of smoking-related disease including 35,900 cancers over twenty years and save £67,000,000 a year in health and social care costs according to research commissioned by Cancer Research UK.[9]

Age restrictions[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

Until 2007, the minimum age to purchase and consume tobacco products in public was 16 years of age. From 1 October 2007, the Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007 became effective, raising the minimum purchase age to 18 years of age.


Until 30 September 2007, the minimum age to purchase and consume tobacco products in public was 16 years of age. From 30 September 2007, the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010 became effective, raising the minimum purchase, consumption, and possession age to 18 years of age.

Section 4: Sale of tobacco products to persons under 18
(1) A person who sells a tobacco product or cigarette papers to a person under the age of 18 commits an offense.

Section 5: Purchase of tobacco products by persons under 18
(1) A person under the age of 18 who buys or attempts to buy a tobacco product or cigarette papers commits an offense.
Section 6: Purchase of tobacco products on behalf of persons under 18

(1) A person aged 18 or over who knowingly buys or attempts to buy a tobacco product or cigarette papers on behalf of a person under the age of 18 commits an offense.

— Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010, Chapter 1 – Sale and purchase of tobacco products

Section 7: Confiscation of tobacco products from persons under 18

(1) Where a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person in a public place—

(a) is under the age of 18, and
(b) is in possession of a tobacco product or cigarette papers,

the constable may require the person to surrender the tobacco product or, as the case may be, the cigarette papers to the constable.
(7) The constable may dispose of any tobacco product or cigarette papers surrendered to the constable in such manner as the constable considers appropriate. (8) In this section "public place" includes—

(a) any place to which the public have access for the time being (whether on payment of a fee or otherwise), and
(b) any place to which the public doesn't have access but to which the person mentioned in subsection (1) has unlawfully gained access.
— Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010, Chapter 1 – Miscellaneous

Northern Ireland[edit]

Until 31 August 2008, the minimum age to purchase and consume tobacco products in public was 16 years of age. From 1 September 2008 the Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 became effective, raising the minimum purchase, consumption and possession age to 18 years of age.

Section 3: Prohibition on sale of tobacco, etc. to persons apparently under 18
(1) Subject to paragraph (2), a person who sells to a person under the age of 18 any tobacco or cigarette papers, whether for his own use or not, shall be guilty of an offense.

Section 5: Seizure of tobacco, etc. in possession of persons apparently under 18
(1) A member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland may seize any tobacco or cigarette papers in the possession of any person apparently under the age of 18 whom he finds smoking in any street or public place.

(2) Any tobacco or cigarette papers seized under paragraph (1) shall be disposed of in such a manner as the Police Authority for Northern Ireland may direct.

— Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, PART II – Sale of Tobacco, Etc. to Persons Apparently Under 18

Smoking ban[edit]

Smoking in workplaces and enclosed public spaces has been illegal since 26 March 2006 in Scotland, 2 April 2007 in Wales, 30 April 2007 in Northern Ireland and 1 July 2007 in England. [10][11]

Further restrictions[edit]

On 6 April 2012, the display of tobacco products was banned in retailers larger than 280 square metres in England. The ban affected small retailers three years later on 6 April 2015.[12]

In March 2011, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government committed itself to holding a public consultation on the introduction of plain tobacco packaging. Influenced by the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, the House of Commons voted 367–113 in March 2015 to pass the Children and Families Act 2014 which would give the government the power to require plain packaging for tobacco products.[13] This came into force on 20 May 2016, but tobacco companies were given one year to sell off remaining stock; in which afterwards, all tobacco products sold in the UK must follow plain packaging laws.[14] On 1 October 2015, a law was passed which banned smoking in vehicles with anyone under eighteen years of age present. The law does not apply to e-cigarettes, if the driver is seventeen years of age and alone in the vehicle or in a convertible with the roof completely down.[15]

The European Union announced back in May 2016 on their intention to ban menthol cigarettes across the EU, including the United Kingdom as of May 2020 through a four year phase-out period. Cigarettes such as Menthol, Click-on, Dual and Capsule, alongside Slim cigarettes, will be included in the ban, as well as flavoured rolling tobacco.

Electronic cigarettes[edit]

Despite the name, 'e-cigarette,' these devices contain no tobacco and produce no smoke. They are used as an alternative to smoking, or as devices where it increasingly looks like they are helping young people avoid smoking.[16] Two hospitals run by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust opened vape shops in 2019 in conjunction with a ban on smoking. Public Health England advises hospitals to let patients vape indoors - and even in bed. [17]

On 2 April 2014, the Welsh Government published a public health white paper in which it proposed a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces.[18] The Bill was subsequently defeated.

The annual Smokefree GB survey, published in May 2017, concluded that 52% of the 2.9 million British e-cigarette users are now ex-smokers. 26% of respondents thought e-cigarettes were as harmful as real cigarettes.[19] In March 2017, it was reported by The Telegraph that the UK's e-cigarette boom is in decline, with the number of people using e-cigarettes in Britain decreasing for the first time since their launch.[20]

There are now 3.5 million vapers in England and most of these are either ex-smokers or people who are trying to quit using an e-cigarette. Vaping electronic cigarettes has become the most popular form of nicotine replacement therapy.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ministers aim to halve number of people smoking by 2020". BBC News. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  2. ^ Stoddard, Katy (14 March 2012). "When No Smoking Day was still big news". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  3. ^ "Smoking rates in England fall to lowest on record". 20 September 2016 – via
  4. ^ "How More Smokers Plague The NHS As Admissions Increase". Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Turning the tide on tobacco: Smoking in England hits a new low - Public health matters". Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  7. ^ "Smoking". Cancer Research UK. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  8. ^ Perry, Keith (3 August 2000). "Cancer warning halves deaths due to smoking". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  9. ^ "Cutting smoking rates could save the NHS and social care £67m a year". Healthcare Leader. 17 May 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Scotland begins pub smoking ban". BBC News. 26 March 2006. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  11. ^ Roxby, Philippa (1 July 2012). "Smoking ban's impact five years on". BBC News. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Full implementation of display ban". 6 April 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  13. ^ "Plain packaging law". The National Archives. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  14. ^ "BBC article on plain packaging vote". BBC. 19 May 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  15. ^ url=
  16. ^ "Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2011–2014".
  17. ^ "Vape shops open on NHS hospital sites, in bid to stub out smoking". Daily Telegraph. 9 July 2019. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  18. ^ Listening to you: Your health matters (PDF) (Report). Welsh Government. 2 April 2014. p. 18. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  19. ^ "More than half of e-cigarette users have quit smoking tobacco, survey reveals". Pharmaceutical Journal. 11 May 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  20. ^ Morley, Katie (1 March 2017). "Britain's e-cigarette boom is over, data suggests". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  21. ^ "Smoking Poverty in the UK". Vape Superstore. Retrieved 16 October 2019.