Press release

New tool models youth smoking variation across England

New figures released today (27 January 2015) estimate smoking rates among young people in local areas for the first time.


Commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) and NICE, and modelled by the University of Portsmouth and the University of Southampton, the figures are estimates of youth smoking rates for every local authority, ward and local NHS level, based on factors known to predict smoking in young people.

The data will help local organisations to respond to high levels of smoking within their areas and is available on the PHE Local Health website.

PHE’s ambition is to reduce smoking rates among young people to secure a tobacco-free generation. Nationally an estimated 12.71% of 15 year olds are regular or occasional smokers, but the data shows considerable variation between areas.

Areas with high estimates included Hartlepool (15.87%), Gateshead (15.92%), Plymouth (15.93%), South Tyneside (16.27%) and Kingston upon Hull (16.68%).

Areas with the lower estimates were concentrated in Greater London, including Harrow (5.15%), Newham (5.37%), Redbridge (5.68%) and Brent (5.70%).

These figures closely mirror adult smoking rates which are falling less rapidly in some areas, with smoking rates considerably higher in deprived communities. Smoking is the single biggest cause of the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in England.

Nearly 8 million people still smoke, with 90% having started before the age of 19.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England, said:

Nationally youth smoking rates are falling and are at their lowest ever levels. But we know smoking rates vary considerably across the country and smoking causes greater harm to more deprived communities. The estimates shine a light on communities where young people have a higher risk of smoking and will help local agencies to focus efforts where they are most needed.

We want to secure a tobacco-free generation and these figures will help us towards this goal. Our most disadvantaged communities have the most to gain.

Dr Liz Twigg, University of Portsmouth, said:

We know with some certainty which factors increase the likelihood of young people starting to smoke: ethnicity, social class and parental behaviour all play a role. For the first time we can combine these factors, national surveys of youth smoking data and what we know about local communities to identify areas where young people are likely to have a higher risk of being a smoker.

Professor Graham Moon, University of Southampton, said:

By having a snapshot of their communities, local organisations are best placed to take action so future generations no longer suffer the devastating and preventable harm caused by tobacco. If we can stop young people starting smoking before the age of 19 then they stand the best chance of enjoying the health, social and financial benefits of a smokefree life.

Professor Gillian Leng, NICE Deputy Chief Executive, said:

Nine out of ten smokers started by the age of 18. We must do more to prevent our children and young people from using tobacco products, or we will see tens of thousands of them suffer and die prematurely as adults. Fully implementing proven tobacco control interventions would help keep our children and young people from falling victim to tobacco.


Notes to editors

  1. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook:

  2. The project was also commissioned by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and jointly funded by PHE. NICE is planning to use the new information to inform the future section on school-based interventions in its tobacco return on investment tool.

  3. The 4 youth smoking measures available from today are regular smoking, occasional smoking, never smoked and an alternative version of never smoked (which includes those who have smoked only ‘once or twice’ and those who have quit). Estimates are provided for young people aged 11 to 15, 15, and 16 to 17.

  4. The models, upon which the synthetic estimates are based were developed using data from 3 waves of Understanding Society (University of Essex, 2014). These models acknowledge that smoking behaviour will vary across genders and age groups, and be influenced by the area within which the individual resides. The models therefore included one or more geographical variables relating to the neighbourhoods of the youth respondents. These were sourced from the 2011 Census and included the proportion of households in rented tenure, and the proportion of the local population who were from BME communities. The models also included the level of deprivation in the local area as captured by the 2010 English Index of Multiple Deprivation score.

Public Health England Press Office

University of Portsmouth Press Office

Email: Telephone: 023 9284 3748

University of Southampton Press Office

Email: Telephone: 023 8059 2128

NICE Press Office

Email: Telephone: 0300 323 0142

Published 27 January 2015