Smoking and tobacco continues to be one of the most significant challenges to the UK health system, and the cause of early death and preventable morbidity in England, with smoking rates higher in certain social groups and those of lower incomes. Despite smoking amongst younger people declining, there is still an urgency to tackle smoking as a whole. Since 2007, the legal age for the purchase of tobacco in England and wales was raised from 16 to 18 to ensure a decline was notable among teenagers.
In a recent survey by What About YOUth 2014 (WAY), questions on smoking behaviour provided data from local authorities to monitor smoking prevalence among young people.
The findings from the survey conclude that the majority of people in England said they did not currently smoke (92%). 8% currently smoke of which 5% were regular smokers and 3% occasionally smoked. 76% said they had never smoked and a further 12% had only tried smoking once. The report also concluded that girls were more likely to report current smoking than boys at 10% compared to 7% and girls were more likely to have tried smoking at 28% compared to 21%.
Smoking was also found to vary among social groups and young people from the most deprived areas were more likely to be regular smokers (7%). Over a quarter of young people in the most deprived areas had ‘ever smoked’ compared to just over one fifth of young people in the least deprived areas (27% and 21% respectively). It was also found that those who received free school meals were more likely to smoke at 13% compared to 7% who didn’t.
Interestingly, the survey had reported that young children who had been bullied were more likely to take up smoking. Young people who were bullies to others were also smokers at 13% and those who had not bullied others (5%). Those who were bullied were twice more likely to be a regular smoker at 7% compared to those who hadn’t at 4%.
Smoking was also seen to be far more popular amongst the younger generation in the North East (8%). Young people in this region were reported to have the highest level of smoking in the country, compared to London which had the lowest smoking prevalence with only 3% reported to smoke. Local authorities had reported that the highest percentage of those who smoked were in Richmond upon Thames and Brighton and Hove (36% for both areas). In other areas such as Hartlepool, Torbay, Bristol, Blackpool and Sunderland, 32% of young people were smokers and the lowest percentage reported from local authorities was in Redbridge and Slough.
The age of smoking and the mean age of first trying a cigarette was just over 13 years old, an astonishing figure. Of those who had tried smoking, just over three quarters had first tried it at 13 years old (775)/ boys were more likely to have tried smoking before they reached the age of 12 than girls (14% compared to 10%).
With e-cigarettes on the rise, the survey also measured those who were more likely to use an electronic cigarette. 3% of young people said they currently used an e-cigarette and 18% of young people said they had used them, compared to 13% who had only tried it once or twice. There was no significant difference between male and females (19% and 18% respectively). Similarly to smoking, young people who were from under-privileged backgrounds were more likely to use an e-cigarette, compared to those in least deprived areas (21% compared to 15%). The same applied to those who received free school meals.
Finally, participants were asked about their attitude and knowledge of smoking and whether they agreed or disagreed with a range of statements covering health and social issues related to smoking. Overall, participants had a strong understanding of the implications of smoking.
- Smoking can cause lung cancer (98%)
- Smoking when pregnant harms the unborn baby (95%)
- Other people’s smoking can harm the health of non-smokers (91%)
- Smoking can cause heart disease (88%)
Statements which drew the lowest levels of agreement were:
- Smokers get more coughs and colds (71%)
- Smoking makes people worse at sports (76%)
In terms of social issues related to smoking, there was agreement:
- Smoking makes your clothes smell (95%)
- Over half of young people said smoking made them more relaxed if they feel nervous (53%)
Comparisons between smokers and non-smokers found:
- Smoking helps people relax if they are nervous (84% of smokers agreed compared to 51% non-smokers)
- Smoking helps people cope better with life (40% of smokers agreed compared to 112% of non-smokers)
- Smoking is not really dangerous – only harms those who smoke a lot (25% of smokers agreed compared to 10% non-smokers)
- Smokers are more fun than non-smokers (10% of smokers agreed compared to 1% of non-smokers)
- Smokers stay slimmer than non-smokers (25% of smokers agreed compared to 16% of non-smokers)
Credit: 2015, Health and Social Care Information Centre, GOV.uk