Smoking in the United Kingdom
Tobacco smoking in the United Kingdom is prevalent among a sizeable, but continuously reducing minority of the population. Smoking is legally permitted, with certain conditions upon location arising from the bans enacted separately in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 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. An annual No Smoking Day has occurred in March since 1984.
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 42% 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.
The UK smoking rate had fallen to 14.4% in 2018.
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.
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.
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.
England and Wales
Until 1 October 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. There is no stated age under which it is illegal to consume tobacco, although an officer has the right to confiscate tobacco if the individual concerned is in a public place and under sixteen years of age.
Children and Young Persons Act 1933 – Section 7
(1) Any person who sells to a person under the age of eighteen years any tobacco or cigarette papers, whether for his own use or not, shall be liable, on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.
(3) It shall be the duty of a constable and of a park-keeper being in uniform to seize any tobacco or cigarette papers in the possession of any person apparently under the age of sixteen years whom he finds smoking in any street or public place, and any tobacco or cigarette papers so seized shall be disposed of, if seized by a constable, in such manner as the police authority may direct, and if seized by a park-keeper, in such manner as the authority or person by whom he was appointed may direct.— Children and Young Persons Act 1933, Section 7 – Sale of tobacco, &c. to persons under eighteen
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 offence.
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 offence.
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 offence.— 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 do not 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
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 offence.
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
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. 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. 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.
Despite the name, 'e-cigarette,' these devices contain no tobacco and produce no smoke. They are clearly used as an alternative to smoking, or as devices where it increasingly looks like they are helping young people avoid smoking. 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. 
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. 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.
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