The decline of tobacco and the growth of e-cigarettes

The decline in smoking in Britain has been happening for a long time. Data from Kantar’s TGI show that, from a level of 49% in 1969, the percentage of smokers has fallen by over two-thirds to 15%, or 7.8m adults. The rate of decline has even increased in the last decade.

Cigarette smoking in GB 1969 to 2019

The accelerated drop-off in recent years has come in parallel with the launch and growth of e-cigarettes. These were first measured by TGI in 2013, when 3.7% of adults reported using them. Six years on, the level has doubled to 8.2%, or 4.4m adults. The drop in the number smoking cigarettes over the period – down six percentage points from 20.6% to 14.7% – suggests a high degree of switching. The decline in the aggregate number of consumers for both types of product also implies that some former cigarette users have given up altogether.

Cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the UK

The decline in cigarette smoking has occurred evenly across the adult population. Looking across the last 30 years from 1989 to 2019, we see the level has dropped by about half in all social grades. People in the DE groups remain almost twice as likely to smoke as ABs.

Cigarette smokers today

DEs are also most likely to be the heaviest smokers (defined as more than 20 per day) although the total number within the population smoking this many has dropped from 5,000,000 to 750,000 in the last 30 years.

The profile of e-cigarette smokers today is very similar to that of cigarette smokers – being oriented towards DEs and also the 25-44 age group. It’s also slightly male-biased (56% of users).

The market for cigars has experienced an even more dramatic decline. It’s very largely a male category, and reported consumption has dropped from close to half of all men in 1969 to below 3% of men today, with an upmarket bias.

Research is vital for businesses taking decisions that have long-term implications. Longitudinal analysis of data such as TGI, including the historical data held within the Archive for Market and Social Research (AMSR), can allow decision-makers to track and assess the impact of their actions.