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Teenage Smoking Statistics in the UK vs. the US

Smoking kills over 480,000 Americans each year, and 90% of smokers had their first cigarette before they were 18 years old. These two simple facts show why bringing down the number of teenage smokers is a big priority in the U.S. and around the world. One of the simplest ways to understand the extent of the problem is to compare teenage smoking rates in the U.S to those in the U.K.
teenage smokers

Teenage Smoking Statistics: The U.S.

Teenage smoking statistics in the U.S. show encouraging trends, but there is still cause for concern about the number of youth trying cigarettes and smoking regularly. In 2011, 15.8% of high school students had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days, but in 2015 this figure had reduced to 9.3%. For middle school students, the trend is similar: 4.3% were past-month smokers in 2011, compared to 2.3% in 2015.

These statistics show that the news is generally positive, but it’s important to note that use of hookahs (a form of smoking involving a water pipe) and e-cigarettes (where a nicotine-containing liquid solution is vaporized and inhaled) have increased over the same time period.

Teenage Smoking Statistics: The U.K.

Teenage smoking in the U.K. has also declined in recent years, but differences in the data make direct comparison difficult. Overall, 3% of U.K. youth aged 16 and under were regular smokers in 2014, defined as smoking at least one cigarette per day. This figure is down from 5% in 2010. Additionally, 2014 figures showed that 18% of children under age 16 had tried smoking.

Difficulties Directly Comparing Teenage Smoking Rates in the U.S. and U.K.

U.S. teen smoking statistics define “current smoker” as having smoked at least one cigarette in the past 30 days, whereas U.K. sources use “regular smoking,” which is having one cigarette or more per week. This alone makes direct comparison difficult. An additional problem is that U.S. data includes all high school students (up to age 18), whereas youth data from the U.K. focuses on ages 11 to 15.

Comparing the teenage smoking rates in the U.K. to the rate among middle school students in the U.S. suggests that rates are similar (2.3% in the U.S. and 3% in the U.K.), but the differing definitions still present an issue.

Reducing Youth Smoking

Regardless of whether the situation is better in the U.S. or the U.K., both countries should continue taking steps to reduce teenage smoking. A nicotine addiction developed in youth can continue throughout life and may lead to premature death, so declining teen smoking rates aren’t an excuse to reduce educational and preventative anti-smoking measures. Reducing youth smoking as much as possible is the only way to keep the next generation smoke-free.


“Smoking and Tobacco Use: Fast Facts” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Smoking and Tobacco Use: Youth and Tobacco Use” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Childhood smoking statistics” – Cancer Research UK

“Statistics on Smoking; England, 2016” – Health and Social Care Information Center

Posted on March 19th, 2017
Posted in Articles, Teens

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