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Nation's smoking habits revealed

Only a tiny proportion of people who use e-cigarettes had never smoked before, latest figures published by the Office of National Statistics have shown.

There had been concerns that e-cigarettes would normalise smoking or provide a gateway to nicotine addiction, but that has not been borne out by the official figures for 2013.

The ONS published preliminary findings from research on e-cigarettes for the first quarter of this year.

It found that 12% of smokers and 5% of ex-smokers use them. But only a tiny 0.14% of people who have never smoked tobacco said they used e-cigarettes.

Those results came against a background of the proportion of people in Great Britain who smoke cigarettes now standing at 19%, a fall of more than half in the past 40 years, when the figure was 46%.

Women accounted for the fall on the previous year - the proportion of women who smoke cigarettes decreased from 19% to 17% between 2012 and 2013, while there was relatively little change in this proportion for men.

Unmarried people were almost twice as likely to be cigarette smokers as married people.

And the proportion who smoke cigarettes was higher amongst unemployed people, people working in routine and manual occupations and those with lower level educational qualifications. The ONS said these are all factors associated with poverty.

Smoking levels were noticeably higher in Northern England and Scotland.

The percentage who smoked in the North East was 22.3; North West 20.1; Yorkshire and the Humber 20.3; East Midlands 19.1; West Midlands 17.8; East of England 17.5; London 17.3; South East 17.2; South West 17.3; Wales 19.8 and Scotland 21.1.

Director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton said: "With one in eight smokers now using e-cigarettes, it is essential that people can be assured of their quality and safety.

"Balanced and effective regulation of e-cigarettes will help manage the risks and maximise the potential for these products to replace smoking - greatly reducing smoking-related disease that kills nearly 80,000 people in England every year."

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Seeing a steady decline in the number of people smoking in Great Britain since 1974 is testament to the combined effectiveness of legislation and awareness-raising we have had in this country."

But she was concerned about an increase in the number of men aged 16-24 who smoke.

She said: "It is therefore more important than ever that the Government fulfils its plans to introduce standardised packaging for all tobacco products at the soonest possible time to help tackle this increase and further see overall rates continue to fall".

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-tobacco group ASH, agreed.

She said: "This statistically-significant decline in adult smokers shows that the Government's tobacco control plan is on track.

"However, children are still taking up smoking, so tough new measures to regulate tobacco, like plain standardised packaging, are needed if we are to drive down smoking still further.

"The Government must act quickly to allow Parliament to vote on the regulations which will finally get rid of glitzy, glamorous cigarette packs forever."

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