“280 Children Start Smoking Each Day” – World No Tobacco Day


The following article was written by ASH for World No Tobacco Day 2020 (31st May). Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see: www.ash.org.uk/about-ash.


If you or a young person you know would like support to stop smoking, please contact the Stop Smoking Service on 0800 013 0553 or click here to refer online.

This World No Tobacco Day, 280 children will start smoking in England – enough to fill over 17 school minibuses

Calculations by Cancer Research UK show that 280 children a day start smoking in England,[1] two thirds of whom will go on to become daily smokers.[2] Tobacco kills nearly 100,000 people a year in the UK,[3] and 8 million globally;[4] consumers who must be replaced by new young smokers if the industry is to remain profitable. That’s why the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day on 31 May is dedicated to protecting young people from Big Tobacco’s strategic, aggressive and well-resourced tactics to attract youth to tobacco. [5]

The UK is a world leader in tobacco control and through increasingly tough regulation of the tobacco industry has seen the proportion of children in England smoking shrink from 1 in 5 two decades ago to 1 in 20 in 2018. [6]

However, the steady decline we’ve seen in youth smoking since the millennium is not certain to continue. In the ten years prior to the millennium child smoking in England actually went up, from 16% in 1990 to 19% in 2000.[7] And in many countries round the world, youth smoking rates have continued to increase since the millennium.[8]

In July 2019, the UK Government set out its ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030, now just ten years away. It recognised that this will be “extremely challenging” and so it also committed to bring forward further measures to deliver on its ambition, including consulting on a ‘polluter pays’ approach which would require the industry to pay for the measures needed to bring the tobacco epidemic to a close. [9]

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said,

“Child smoking has shrunk rapidly since our Government started steadily ratcheting up regulation of tobacco after the turn of the century. One in twenty children in England smoke now compared to one in five then. However, that’s still too many, equivalent to 88,000 new child smokers since the Government announced its ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030 last July. The public purse can’t afford to pay to end the smoking epidemic, which is why the Government said it would consult on a ‘polluter pays’ approach instead. Big Tobacco is the culprit; Big Tobacco must be made to pay.”



[1] Methodology: Calculated by the Cancer Intelligence Team at Cancer Research UK, December 2019, using Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use in Young People in England 2016 and 2018 data Figures represent the average number of children per year between 2016 and 2018. Percentage of new smokers was calculated for each single-year age band, and ‘smoker’ was defined as ‘regular’, ‘occasional’ or ‘used to smoke’. For example, percentage of new smokers aged 13 in 2018, was calculated by subtracting the percentage of smokers aged 12 in 2017, from the percentage of smokers aged 13 in 2018. This calculation was used for ages 12, 13, 14 and 15; for age 11 all smokers were considered new smokers. 2017 figures were estimated as the average of 2016 and 2018, as no 2017 survey was carried out. Percentage of new smokers in England was applied to UK population estimates to obtain the number of new UK smokers. The 2014-18 trend in estimated number of new child smokers in the UK each year was projected forward to obtain estimates for 2019-21. Yearly figures were divided by 365 to obtain daily figures.

[2] Birge M, Duffy S, Miler JA, Hajek P. What proportion of people who try one cigarette become daily smokers? A meta-analysis of representative surveys. Nicotine Tob Res. 2018 Nov 15;20(12):1427-1433. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntx243

[3] Peto, R et al. Mortality from smoking in developed countries 1950-2010. University of Oxford. UK: pp.512-523. 2012.

[4] World Health Organization. Factsheet 339: Tobacco. July 2015.

[5] World Health Organization. World No Tobacco Day – 31 May 2020. Online. [accessed 29 May 2020]

[6] SVG and PDF versions of the embedded infographic are available to download at https://bit.ly/3gznBE6

[7] NHS Digital. Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018 [NS]. August 2019.

[8] Tobacco Atlas. Youth. Online. [accessed 29 May 2020]

[9] Cabinet Office and DHSC. Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s – consultation document. July 2019.

[10] Find out more about the Smokefree 2030 campaign at www.smokefreeaction.org.uk/smokefree2030