Smoking and Vaping: The Rise and Fall of the Tobacco Industry in the UK

The 31st May is ‘World No Tobacco Day’ on which, the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlights the dangers of using tobacco, how tobacco companies advertise and how WHO are fighting the tobacco epidemic.  Earlier this month, the sale of menthol cigarettes was banned, further limiting the choice to smokers.

Here at BEAM, we’ve experienced a steady rise in vaping research both domestically and internationally. In fact, we’d go as far as to say we’re vaping aficionados – what we don’t know about devices, trends, frequency and habits isn’t worth knowing!

With this rapid shift of landscape in the smoking and vaping industry, let’s take a look at just how the tobacco industry has changed over the years.

Pre-Smoking Ban

In the 60s and 70s, it was the norm to smoke pretty much everywhere – public transport, theatres, even offices. A whopping 45% of the population aged over 16 smoked. Evidence in the 1950’s of the negative health effects were dismissed and ignored by both the public and health professionals.

As time went on, the dangers became more apparent with partial bans in offices, trains and the London Underground coming into effect in the 80s and 90s. UK adult smoking numbers dropped to 30%.

In the noughties, WHO shared a more detailed report with evidence about the risks of passive smoking, and how second-hand smoke could cause lung cancer in non-smokers. This report would change the tobacco industry dramatically.

The Ban

The ban of smoking in public premises and workplaces came into place in the UK in July 2007. Research following the ban showed that:

  • Hospital admissions for heart attacks fell 2.4% (1,200 fewer heart attacks per year) in the first 18 months.
  • The number of smokers decreased from 22% in 2006, to less than 15% in 2019.
  • The shift in view that pubs were becoming more family orientated, meant the number of pubs in the UK has fallen, with 7000 out of 56,000 closing between 2007 and 2015.

The End of Advertising

May 2017 saw tobacco companies selling cigarettes only in packs of twenty, with all branding on packs being made illegal. Tobacco companies had to adhere to the landmark ruling that products had to be sold in standardised packing, carrying hard-hitting health warnings. It was this introduction that started the shift of smokers to vapers.

The Rise of E-Cigarettes

Since 2011, vaping has increased from 7 million adult vapers worldwide to 41 million in 2018, with numbers expected to reach 55 million by 2021. In the UK, 3.6 million people now vape in comparison to the 7.2 million that once smoked.

The health implications of smoking, combined with the new advertising on cigarette boxes led a large number of smokers to turn to vaping instead, with the belief that it was better for their health. As a result, 54.1% of vapers are actually ex-smokers.

With awareness days like No Tobacco Day and ‘Stoptober’, smokers are encouraged to give vaping a try in order to help them quit the cigarettes. Can we expect to see smoker figures decline over the next few years with vaping at such a high?

As we mentioned earlier, there isn’t much we don’t know about the vaping industry thanks to our fieldwork with a multi-national tobacco brand. You can read more about said work here, or why not get in touch to discuss your own market research fieldwork project?


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