Smokers in England have consumed almost 1.5 billion fewer cigarettes each year since 2011, according to new research.
Average consumption fell by nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2018, with approximately 118 million fewer cigarettes smoked each month across the country.
The findings came from a University College London study (UCL), funded by Cancer Research UK, which looked at sales data and monthly self-reported cigarette use from more than 135,000 people taking part in the Smoking Toolkit Study research project.
Sales data showed a 24.1% decrease on average over the seven-year period, with self-reported cigarette use having declined by 24.4%.
The study, which was published in the journal JAMA Network Open, also found that the number of people smoking went down by 15% during the same spell – meaning those who still smoke are doing so less.
According to the most recent figures from the Office For National Statistics, only 16% of people aged 16 and over now smoke, made up of 16.7% of men and 15.8% of women.
The dramatic decline in the popularity of cigarettes has no doubt been caused by several policy changes over the sale of tobacco, including bans on billboards and print adverts in 2003, indoor smoking in 2007, and more advertising encouraging people to give up the habit.
Such campaigns have not always been well received, with Cancer Research UK criticised for a recent advert featuring a mocked-up packet of cigarettes to warn of the shared dangers of smoking and being obese.
The image played on the health guidance usually seen on cigarette packaging, but instead sported the slogan: “Obesity is a cause of cancer too.”
Lead author of the study Dr Sarah Jackson, from UCL’s tobacco and alcohol research group, said: “It’s brilliant that over a billion fewer cigarettes are being sold and smoked in England every year.
“Studies like this help to give us an accurate picture of cigarette consumption so we know where we’re at and what more needs to be done.”
However, Cancer Research UK has said there is still more to be done, calling for funding from tobacco companies for stop smoking services and treatments.
Senior policy manager George Butterworth said smoking remains “the biggest preventable cause of cancer” and called on the government to pledge more money to local stop smoking services.
“Last month, the government committed to making the UK smoke-free by 2030,” he said.
“But stop smoking services, which give smokers the best chance of quitting, have been subject to repeated cuts in recent years. We need the government to fix the funding crisis in local stop smoking services.”