Skip to content

Unemployed people twice as likely to smoke as employed people in 2012

20% of adults in Great Britain were smokers in 2012

According to the latest report released by the Office for National Statistics, 20% of adults in Great Britain were cigarette smokers in 2012, with no change on the previous year. From 2008 to 2012 the rate remained largely unchanged, whereas the most significant change occurred between 1974 and 2007, when the rate fell from 45% to 21%.

Unemployed people twice as likely to smoke as employed people

ONS found that employment status is associated with smoking rates. Unemployed people (those not working but seeking work) were twice as likely to smoke (39%) as those in employment (21%) or economically inactive (for example, retired people and students) (17%). Smoking rates also varied by occupation, for instance, 33% of adults in routine and manual occupations (such as bar staff and delivery drivers) smoked, while 14% of those in managerial and professional occupations (such as accounting and teaching) smoked. The proportion of women smoking in routine and manual occupations increased from 26% to 32% between 2011 and 2012. However, the smoking rates for economically inactive people has decreased across all age groups since 2011.

Smoking claims around 80,000 lives per year in England, therefore reducing smoking has been a key objective of government policy on improving health. The Department of Health has the 2011 ‘Tobacco Control Plan’ to address smoking in the UK, and the Welsh Government has outlined their aim to reduce smoking by 7% by 2020 as smoking related illnesses cost the NHS in Wales approximately £1 million each day in 2007/081. Starting Tuesday 1 October 2013, the NHS in England and Wales will begin their ‘Stoptober’ month, where they provide free support materials and encourage people to quit for 28 days.

Male smokers are driving the flat line in smoking rates

The rate of smoking has remained largely unchanged over the last five years and this has been mainly due to no change in the proportion of male smokers. The proportion of women smokers has marginally declined over the last five years but the proportion of males smoking has changed very little, leading to the recent flat line shown in the chart. Amongst men, those aged 25-34 years old were most likely to smoke (32%), an increase from 26% in 2011.

Pregnant women tend to give up smoking (during pregnancy); however, 7% of women continue to smoke when pregnant. It is possible, though, that this rate is under-estimated, as some women may be less likely to admit to smoking given the health risks attached.

Today it’s harder to avoid the message that smoking is a major health risk

Today it’s easier to find support to quit smoking, and it’s harder to avoid the message that smoking is a major health risk with increasingly graphic health warnings on tobacco products. The smoking ban has created environments that make it easier to avoid smoking and make smoking less of a social norm.  However, despite a range of recent policy initiatives, the rate of smoking has remained largely unchanged since 2007. What is unknown is what the rate of smoking would have been over the past five years in the absence of such policies.

Where can I find out more from ONS on smoking statistics?

These statistics were analysed by the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey team at ONS using data from the Opinions and Lifestyle survey and published on the ONS website. If you’d like to find out more about the latest smoking and health statistics, please read the full bulletin, or visit our Health and Social Care page. If you have any comments or suggestions, we’d like to hear them! Please email us at

1 Stop Smoking Wales: Annual Report 2011/2012 (p12)


Categories: Health and Social Care, Health of the Population, Lifestyles and Behaviours, Drug use, Alcohol and Smoking, Smoking Habits, Smoking Cessation
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.