The number of smokers in England has dropped and new official figures show a recent collapse in sales of cigarettes.
Just 16.9% of adults in England now smoke, according to the latest data from Public Health England. Its health experts also revealed that widespread use of e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and gum helped 500,000 smokers last year kick the habit - the highest number on record.
‘The continuing fall in smoking is due to a combination of tough measures, such as price rises and the introduction of plain packaging, and mass media campaigns urging people to quit.’
Over the past 50 years smoking prevalence has declined continuously and dramatically by about two-thirds. In 1974, over 50% of men in Britain were smokers; that had fallen to just 19.1% in England in 2015. Similarly, just over 40% of women smoked back then; last year it was only 14.9%.
There are now just 7.2 million adults in England who smoke. They are far outnumbered by 14.6 million ex-smokers. It is the first time that under 17% of the population is smokers and is down from the 19.3% seen as recently as 2012.
Doctors welcomed the news but pointed out that about 200 people still die prematurely every day in England as a result of heart attacks, strokes and breathing problems caused by smoking.
Prof Kevin Fenton, PHE's national director of health and wellbeing, hailed the diminishing appeal of smoking as "amazing". But he warned that, at 7.2 million, the number of people still lighting up regularly remained worryingly high.
"Alongside unhealthy diet, smoking is the biggest cause of preventable early death in England, accounting for over 78,000 deaths a year," said Fenton. "Quitters will soon see they have reduced blood pressure, easier breathing and better circulation."
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health. By giving up smoking you'll be dramatically reducing your chances of having a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke."
Rosanna O'Connor, PHE's director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, said: "Marketing campaigns and price increases are especially useful in triggering quit attempts.
"But we are also influenced by the people around us. The more ex-smokers there are among your friends and family, the more likely you are to quit for good and the less likely your children are to start."