Motivation to quit smoking has reduced in a decade, study shows

Smokers in England are less hooked than they were a decade ago – but are also less inclined to give up, reveals study

  • People smoke fewer cigarettes every day in 2017 compared with 2008
  • However, lower proportions of smokers had plans to quit or cut down
  • More people are turning to e-cigarettes than typical quit-smoking products
  • Cancer Research UK said the ‘concerning’ findings are a sign of funding cuts

Smokers in England are less hooked than they were a decade ago – but are also less inclined to give up, a study has revealed. 

An analysis of 41,610 smokers found they were smoking around three cigarettes less every day in 2017, compared to 2008. 

However, their motivation to quit or at cut down has declined drastically, researchers at University College London discovered.

More than a third (37 per cent) of smokers tried to quit in the past year when asked in 2008. This dropped to just 29.9 per cent in 2017.

And the proportion of smokers attempting to cut down on cigarettes declined from 56.1 to 47.9 per cent over the same period.

 Smokers are using around three cigarettes less every day in 2017, compared to 2008 (left). But their motivation to quit or at cut down has declined drastically (see centre, how many people want to quit and right, how many want to cut down), researchers at University College London discovered

Cancer Research UK said the findings were ‘concerning’ and a consequence of the funding cuts to stop-smoking services.

This January, a major campaign to highlight the dangers of smoking was shelved after it emerged Public Health England’s anti-smoking budget had been cut from £5million to £3.8million. 

Study lead author Dr Claire Garnett said: ‘The decline in the proportion of smokers trying to quit or cut down is a worrying trend.’

She added: ‘[It] may reflect budget cuts on tobacco control, including mass media expenditure and stop-smoking services.

‘These are known to be effective and it is a false economy to be cutting back on these.’     

Smoking in England is at a record low – levels have decreased from 21.1 per cent in 2008 to 14.9 per cent in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Experts say the smoking ban in enclosed public places, which came into effect in 2007, has driven people to quit.

The UCL study found that smokers in 2017 smoked an average of 10.9 cigarettes a day, compared with 13.6 in 2008.

Less people smoke in the first hour after waking up, according to the findings of the study published in the journal Addiction.  

And 13.4 per cent of smokers said they do not smoke every day in 2017, up from 9.1 per cent at the start of the 10-year period.

However, smokers were less likely to quit or cut back on their habit compared to ten years ago. 

This contradicts the ‘hardening theory’, that as smoking rates fall, levels of cigarette dependence would increase. 


Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.

Nicotine alters the balance of two chemicals called dopamine and noradrenaline in your brain.

When nicotine changes the levels of these chemicals, mood and concentration levels change. Many smokers find this enjoyable.

The changes happen very quickly. When you inhale the nicotine, it immediately rushes to the brain, where it produces feelings of pleasure and reduces stress and anxiety.

This is why many smokers enjoy the nicotine rush and become dependent on it.

The more you smoke, the more your brain becomes used to the nicotine. 

When a person stops smoking, the loss of nicotine changes the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain. This can cause withdrawal symptoms of anxiety, depression and irritability.

Source: NHS 

The authors said: ‘Lower levels of cigarette dependence consistently predict greater quit success.’

They added that it suggests there is ‘potential to further reduce smoking prevalence in the English population’.

The study found that more needs to be done to lower the high proportion of people from low paid and manual occupation groups who smoke.

In 2008, the percentage of current smokers of low social grade was 61.7 per cent. It has remained high at 61.6 per cent in 2017.

Dr Garnett and team wrote: ‘Access to stop smoking services is an important factor that determines whether smokers attempt to cut down or quit smoking.

‘Access to services has decreased due to recent budget cuts in approximately half of local authorities.

‘This is particularly concerning, as these services successfully reach disadvantaged smokers.’

Kruti Shrotri, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control manager, said: ‘It’s concerning that smokers are now less motivated to quit than a decade ago.

‘Mass media campaigns such as Stoptober and January Health Harms are vital in encouraging people to quit smoking but have seen significant budget cuts in recent years.

‘The Government must invest more in these health campaigns to save lives from cancers that could have been prevented.’

It comes as a record number of Britons are now hooked on e-cigarettes, often used by smokers in their quest to give up the killer habit.

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