This site is intended for health professionals only

Number of young smokers at lowest rate ever, official figures show

The number of young people who have tried smoking has dropped to its lowest ever recorded figure, official data shows.

The latest NHS Digital statistics show the number of young people aged between 11 and 15 who have ever smoked dropped to 16% in 2018, compared to 19% in 2016 – the lowest rate recorded in the survey.

The figures also mark an ongoing decline from 49% in 1996 and the proportion of young people who have never smoked has increased year after year to 84% in 2018.

There is an increase in the use of e-cigarettes, however.

One quarter of pupils surveyed reported using e-cigarettes, an increase of three percentage points from 2014. Additionally, 6% are regular e-cigarette users, compared to 5% being current smokers.

A 2017 study showed that teens who start smoking e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking cigarettes but a later study evaluated that there is ‘little evidence’ to show e-cigarettes promote smoking in teenagers.

The numbers, conducted by Ipsos Mori, are based on a survey of 13,664 pupils from year 7 to 11, from 193 schools across England.

Other key findings of the report showed that:

  • Almost half (47%) of 15-year-olds thought it was acceptable to drink alcohol once a week and 19% thought it was okay to get drunk once a week.
  • In 2018, 38% of 15-year-olds have ever taken drugs, compared to one-fifth of 13-year-olds and 12% of 12-year-olds.
  • In the past year, 9.5% of pupils have ever taken cannabis, and 9% have taken volatile substances such as glue, gas or solvents.
  • Almost 4% (3.9%) said they have ever taken any Class A drug and just over 7% said they have taken any psychoactive substances, including nitrous oxide and new psychoactive substances (previously known as legal highs).
  • Almost seven in 10 (68%) reported being aged 11 or younger when first taking volatile substances.
  • Over two-thirds of 15-year-olds who have been offered drugs have taken them, and 50% said they had taken cannabis after being offered the drug.

This follows the number of adults who smoke cigarettes has also decreased in the past seven years.

Last year Public Health England also found that e-cigarettes could support at least 20,000 people annually to quit smoking and said there was ‘compelling evidence’ for e-cigarettes to be available on the NHS.

A long term study carried out by Cancer Research UK evaluated that e-cigarettes could be safer than smoking. 


Visit Pulse Reference for details on 140 symptoms, including easily searchable symptoms and categories, offering you a free platform to check symptoms and receive potential diagnoses during consultations.