Future health campaigns to target ‘social smokers’

Major study in England shows fewer smokers trying to quit and more using rolling tobacco

Irish health officials plan to target social smokers and those in lower socio-economic areas in future campaigns, as new research reveals these groups have been more resistant to quitting cigarettes over the last decade.

Research from University College London found the number of English smokers who tried to quit the habit in the past year had declined from 37 per cent to 29 per cent between 2008 and 2017.

The study examined more than 41,600 smokers in England over a 10- year period and was published in the scientific journal Addiction on Thursday.

The research found the percentage of occasional smokers who did not smoke every day had increased from 9 per cent to 13.4 per cent.


The proportion of smokers who came from disadvantaged backgrounds remained almost the same over the 10-year period at 61 per cent of those who smoked.

The study found the proportion of people smoking roll-your-own cigarettes had increased significantly from 35 per cent to over half of smokers.

Those trying to cut down on how much they smoked had declined over the period from 56 per cent of those studied to just under 48 per cent, the research found.

Similar trends

Dr Paul Kavanagh, a public health consultant and advisor to the Health Service Executive (HSE) Tobacco Free Ireland campaign, said many of the figures matched similar trends seen in Ireland.

The last decade and a half had seen a “faster reduction in smoking among more affluent groups,” a sharp increase in the relative popularity of roll-your-own cigarettes, and a continued prevalence of social smoking, he said.

Future HSE campaigns would seek to target previously harder to reach smokers such as those in lower socio-economic areas and social or occasional smokers, he said.

Social smokers, who might only have a number of cigarettes on a weekend night out, “often don’t see themselves as a smoker,” Dr Kavanagh said.

“If someone doesn’t identify as a smoker then it’s hard to connect with them from a public health campaign perspective... They don’t see themselves as addicted,” he said.

Chris Macey, Irish Heart Foundation head of advocacy, said the health service needed to get better at targeting quit-smoking campaigns at people in disadvantaged areas.

Often people were not aware that there was “such a small differential between smoking a little and smoking a lot... It’s almost as damaging smoking five [cigarettes] as smoking 20,” he said.

Kevin O'Hagan, Irish Cancer Society's head of cancer prevention, said Ireland had seen a positive "fairly steady decline" in the number of people who smoked.

However, certain trends were going in the opposite direction, such as a large increase in the proportion of people smoking roll-your-own cigarettes, he said.

The increase was likely linked to the fact roll-your-own cigarettes were cheaper and had become somewhat “culturally more acceptable” to smoke compared to ordinary cigarettes, he said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times