Smoking rates across England are lowest on record, say health officials
Smoking rates across England are the lowest on record, health officials have said.
Public Health England (PHE) said that 16.9% of the population in England are smokers - the lowest level since records began.
The figures were released as the health body launched its annual Stoptober campaign to encourage the nation's remaining smokers to quit for the month of October.
If people give up the habit for 28 days they are five times more likely to quit for good, PHE said.
Celebrities are also joining the mass quit attempt.
Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, former cricketer Phil Tufnell and singer Natasha Hamilton will be taking part in the challenge.
Public health officials are focusing their campaign online this year, with more than half a million pounds being ploughed into Facebook advertising.
Last week PHE boss Duncan Selbie said that almost three quarters of smokers use the social media site.
Officials are offering smokers a range of support to help hem, including the Stoptober app and new Facebook Messenger tool.
In England there are now twice as many ex-smokers (14.6 million people), than current smokers (7.2 million), PHE added.
Last year, out of the 2.5 million smokers who made a quit attempt, 500,000 people (20%) were successful.
PHE also released regional figures on areas that have seen the biggest decreases in smoking rates over the last four years.
Smoking rates in the South West have fallen from 18.7% to 15.5%, in the North East the percentage of smokers has fallen from 22% to 18.7% and in Yorkshire and Humber the number of smokers dipped from 21.9% to 18.6%.
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at PHE, said: "While it is amazing that there are over twice as many ex-smokers as current smokers in England, there are still over seven million people regularly lighting up.
"Alongside unhealthy diet, smoking is the biggest cause of preventable early death in England, accounting for over 78,000 deaths a year. Quitters will soon see they have reduced blood pressure, easier breathing and better circulation. Stopping smoking is the best thing a smoker can do to improve their health."
The Government's deputy chief medical officer, Dr Gina Radford, added: "While we know that quitting smoking is not easy, this Stoptober is a perfect time to try again.
"We have a range of free support that can go direct to your phone, laptop or tablet via the Stoptober app, a daily email service or Facebook Messenger bot. The new Stoptober website also has advice and information on stop-smoking services and quitting aids."
Craig Revel Horwood said: "As a performer, I know the sense of satisfaction that comes in that final moment of completion after days and weeks of commitment and dedication, and together with the Stoptober support tools, it's this taste of success which will help to keep me going in my quit-smoking attempt this October.
"In moments of weakness, just like I will be doing, I'd recommend quitters turn to the proven Stoptober support; from daily email alerts through to a dedicated app, Stoptober can help. Good luck darlings, we can do it."
Ex-England cricketer Phil Tufnell, added: "I have smoked pretty steadily since I was a teenager, even through my cricket career. I have tried to give up before and know how tough it is, but I am going to try and quit again from 1 October.
"Even if you have tried quitting before like me and failed, just give it another go and keep trying. The more you try to quit the more likely you are to get there. Stoptober is here to help, so let's try and get through to 28 days without a fag by taking it one day at a time."
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: "Quit smoking campaigns like Stoptober are a waste of public money because smokers don't need the state to help them quit.
"Smokers who want to stop are increasingly using free market solutions like e-cigarettes that cost the public nothing."
Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "We know that smoking is the number one cause of preventable early death, and that if you have a lung condition like COPD it is often the single most important thing you can do to turn your health around.
"On top of this human cost, smoking has been estimated to cost the economy over £10 billion a year. We therefore support public health campaigns like Stoptober that motivate and support people to quit."