More people in the UK are successfully quitting smoking than ever

E-cigarettes, legislation and cultural changes have led to record numbers of people successfully kicking the smoking habit in the UK, say UCL researchers

Those trying to quit smoking in the UK are having more success than ever before, research by University College London has revealed. Almost 20 per cent of those who attempted to quit in the first half of 2017 have succeeded in giving up smoking tobacco.

The data shows that quitting success rates increased from a low of 13.4 per cent in 2010 to a high of 19.8 per cent in the first six months of 2017. The average over the past ten years has been a 15.7 per cent success rate.

The improvement is thought to be mainly due to the increased use of e-cigarettes, which are becoming the most popular method of quitting. As well as mimicking the experience of smoking tobacco, the reduced cost means that for the first time those on lower incomes have the same chance of quitting as higher earners, say UCL researchers.

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Previous studies suggest that e-cigarettes are significantly safer than tobacco cigarettes (95 per cent safer according to Public Health England), however there are still concerns about their health implications. Unlike regular cigarette smoke, e-cigarette vapour doesn’t contain two of the most harmful elements: tar and carbon monoxide. But many e-cigarettes still contain addictive nicotine which, according to experts at Harvard Medical School, can lead to type 2 diabetes and negatively impact the brain. Concerns have also been raised about some of the chemicals used in flavourings, including diacetyl which is associated with a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans.

Guidelines recently released by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggest that patients should be informed by their doctor that limited evidence currently exists on the benefits or harms of e-cigarettes.

Many stop smoking campaigns advocate e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting combined with local support services, rather than as a long-term replacement for smoking tobacco. Stoptober for example, which runs a stop smoking campaign throughout October, says that using an e-cigarette “isn’t completely risk-free, but it carries a small fraction of the risk of smoking and can help you quit“.

There has never been a better time to quit – the culture has changed, strong legislation is in place and effective support is available

In 2016, Stoptober reported that 53 per cent of those taking part in its month of smoking abstinence used an e-cigarette as a quitting aid.

As well as e-cigarettes, the UCL research acknowledged the role of restrictions on smoking in public places, the banning of attractive imagery on tobacco packaging and the rise of a strong anti-smoking culture in England in contributing to the trend.

Professor Gina Radford, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said: “There has never been a better time to quit – the culture has changed, strong legislation is in place and effective support is available.

“The battle against smoking is far from over – it is still the country’s biggest killer, causing 79,000 deaths a year and for every death, another 20 smokers are suffering from a smoking-related disease.”

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