It’s been more than ten years since vaping was introduced to the UK. From being a fringe activity, vaping has boomed into a thriving billion pound global industry with its own communities and international regulations. Vaping is often a hotly contested subject as well, garnering a lot of attention from the media and attracting the interest of both researchers and policy-makers (who often seem to disagree).
To figure out what vaping is really like in the UK during 2019, we’ve taken a look at some of the hard statistics out there.
Before diving in though, let’s take a look at the global situation first.
As of 2018, the number of vapers around the world reached 40 to 45 million. This is a huge increase compared to 7 million in 2011 and 35 million in 2016. The prediction is that by 2021, the number will go up to 55 million (Euromonitor International).
In line with this, Euromonitor added that the global vaping market quadrupled from 2013 to 2018, rising from £3.4 billion to £18.4 billion.
What’s clear is that vaping has been rapidly increasing in popularity all over the world, and this is a trend that’s been consistent for several years.
The countries that contributed the most to this growth as of 2016 were US, Japan, and the UK, which all together spent $16 billion on tobacco and vaping products that year (Euromonitor). TheUK is the third biggest market in the world, and it’s the leading European country when it comes to vaping.
For the local take on vaping, we looked at the following reports:
- Vaping in England: an evidence update (Feb 2019) by Public Health England
- E-cigarette use in Great Britain (Jul 2019) by the Office for National Statistics
- Use of e-cigarettes (vapourisers) among adults in Great Britain (Jun 2019) by Action on Smoking and Health
- Electronic cigarettes in England – latest trends (Jul 2019) by Smoking in England
- Statistics on Smoking, England (Jul 2019) by National Health Service Digital
How many vapers are there in the UK?
Both the ONS and ASH national surveys agree that there are roughly 3.2 million vapers in Great Britain as of 2018.
In the ONS survey, 6.3% of the respondents in the reported that they vape. The ONS has been collecting data about vaping since 2015, when only 4.4% (or 2.2 million of the population) vaped. Echoing the global trend, there are more vapers than ever in the UK:
The ASH survey also noted the drastic increase, mentioning that it estimated only 700,000 vapers in 2012.
Surveys can have very different methods and samples, but when the PHE gathered four national surveys for 2017 and 2018, the findings consistently arrived at vapers being 5-6% of the UK population.
The more vapers there are, the higher the demand for vaping products. Fittingly, there were around 2,000 vape shops in the UK as of 2018 (UK Vaping Industry Association). Despite the demand, many vape shops still struggle because of advertising restrictions and tight competition.
Even going far back, there have always been more male than female vapers. For 2018, ONS cited that 7.7% of men vaped vs. 5.0% of women, while it’s 6.8% vs. 5.6% for ASH.
According to PHE’s analysis, the two most common age groups for vapers are 25 to 34 years old and 35 to 44 years old. The ASH, ONS, and Smoking in England estimate that 7-8% of vapers fall into these age groups.
Overall, vaping seems to decline with age. Those who are 60 years old and above vape the least. The exception to this are vapers younger than 25 years old, who don’t vape that much either.
Smoking and Vaping
How many vapers are smokers?
Smoking and vaping are very much intertwined since many smokers turn to vaping to help them quit.
In fact, current or ex-smokers are much more likely to vape. 52% of vapers or more than half are ex-smokers, and 40% are current smokers trying to quit (ASH).
As for smokers, 15-18% of current smokers and 10-12% of ex-smokers vape regularly, while less than 1% of non-smokers become vapers (PHE).
Here’s the exact breakdown:
Can vaping really help smokers quit?
The PHE backs vaping as the most popular way for smokers to quit, saying that e-cigarettes can cause at least 20,000 smokers to quit every year.
In addition, a UK clinical trial released in 2019 discovered that 18% of smokers who combined vaping with smoking cessation counselling were able to quit within a year. In contrast, only 9.9% of those who used standard nicotine replacement therapies with counselling. The conclusion is that vaping is twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapy for quitting smoking.
Smoking has actually decreased nationwide. In England specifically, only 14.4% of adults are smokers in 2019 from 19.8% in 2011 and 14.9% in 2017. However, this is still higher than the national goal of 14% or less (NHS Digital). Interestingly, smoking has been decreasing just as vaping is increasing, which reflects how vaping might be helping more smokers to quit.
Source: NHS Digital
What do smokers think of vaping?
Not a lot of smokers know that vaping can help them quit or that it’s at least 95% less harmful than smoking (PHE).
Around a third of smokers said that they’d never try vaping because they’re worried it would be unhelpful or just as addicting. Less than 20% of smokers knew that vaping is safer than smoking (ASH and ONS). Several respondents also admitted to not knowing enough about vaping and being concerned about safety (ASH).
However, the ONS survey found that most people smoked before they turned to vaping, not the other way around. 92.2% of vapers smoked cigarettes before, and only 5.2% went from vaping to smoking. It’s also worth considering that most people who try vaping, whether they’ve ever smoked or not, never do it regularly. These imply that vaping is not a gateway to smoking, nor is it likely to become an addiction.
Reasons for Vaping
There’s definitely a need for greater public awareness about vaping, but the message seems to be getting through. Surprisingly, the number one reason why people vape is to quit smoking.
According to the ONS survey, more than half of vapers said they used e-cigarettes for that purpose. Many vapers also pointed out that it’s less harmful than smoking and cheaper than tobacco products.
On the other hand, a leading 27.1% of respondents to the ASH survey also vape to stop smoking. Other reasons include keeping off tobacco and saving money.
Although not a lot cited enjoyment as their main motive for vaping, 50% agreed that they gain a lot of pleasure from it (ASH).
Frequency and Duration of Vaping
Nearly 75% of vapers vape every day, while 17% do it several times a week (ONS).
As for how long people keep vaping, 16.4% of current and ex-vapers only vape for a month. After that, there’s no consistent pattern—people are as likely to vape for 1-3 months as much as 1-2 years (ASH).
There’s a lot going on in the UK vaping scene. With vaping becoming more popular around the globe, the UK remains at the forefront as one of the largest vaping markets.
The statistics point to a growing industry that’s showing no signs of stopping soon. More people are vaping year after year. The demographics skew towards males and those aged 25 to 44 years old.
A large proportion of vapers are also former or current smokers. Perception of vaping remains mixed. While most smokers are unaware of vaping’s benefits, the number one reason why people turn to vaping is still to quit smoking. This is a promising direction for vaping, and we’ll see a greater emphasis on the public health angle in the future.