Smoking prevalence among England’s adult population is set to drop below 20% for the first time in a century, it was revealed on Friday.
An ongoing survey of tobacco use is expected to show the turning point being crossed by the end of this year.
The proportion of smokers in England dipped as low as 20.1% in 2011, when the last yearly results from the survey were published.
Researchers plan to publish more figures at the end of this year. Barring a highly unlikely U-turn in the current trend, they will show that less than a fifth of people in England now smoke.
Prof Robert West, from University College London, who co-heads the Smoking Toolkit Study, said: “2013 is going to be, almost without doubt, the first year for a hundred years where we’re solidly below 20% smoking prevalence in England. It’s going to be a big year.
“We are making progress. It’s slow, and we’d like it to be quicker, but things are going in the right direction.”
The Smoking Toolkit Study tracks smoking habits in adults over the age of 16 every month and publishes the results online. Researchers conduct household surveys to collect information from about 1,800 people.
Currently, it shows that average smoking prevalence across England is 19.1%, with a marked difference between populations at the top and the bottom of the socio-economic scale.
Among those in the upper and middle A, B and C1 social brackets, only about 13% smoke. But tobacco is part of the lives of more than a quarter of people classified as C2, D and E.
It is extremely unlikely that the overall yearly figure will not end up below 20%, said West.
“It’s looking very promising,” he added. “We’re at a psychologically significant point. My guess is that the publicity around it will help to stop even more people smoking.”