Drinking declines and smoking reaches all time low in Great Britain

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 24 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:178
  1. Henry Creagh
  1. 1London

    Alcohol and tobacco consumption in Great Britain is on a downward trend, according to two new reports from the Office for National Statistics.

    The General Household Survey report, Smoking and Drinking Among Adults 2006, shows that managers are drinking more heavily than their workforces, the English are out-drinking the Scots and the Welsh, and smoking is on a slow but steady decline.

    Men and women in “routine and manual” households drank an average of 11.6 units of alcohol a week and were the lowest consumers. The greatest consumers were people in “managerial and professional” households, who drank an average of 14 units a week.

    Average consumption of alcohol in England in 2006 was 13.7 units a week compared to 13.5 units in Wales and a mere 11.6 units in Scotland.

    The Office for National Statistics statistician Eileen Goddard said that because of a change of methodology, as a response to an increase in the size of wine glasses and the strength of wine, exact comparisons with the previous year could not be made.

    However, she said that estimates from the past 10 years using the old methodology made it possible to see a general downward trend in consumption.

    The proportion of men drinking more than the previously recommended limit of 21 units a week fell from 29% in 2000 to 23% in 2006, and the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units a week fell from 17% in 2000 to 12% in 2006.

    Where guidelines for safe limits were previously given on a weekly basis of units consumed, current recommendations are given on a daily basis. Levels of consumption “not thought to be harmful” are 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women. The change was made in an effort to tackle binge drinking.

    The report also showed that cigarette smoking was down to its lowest recorded level, with only 22% of the Great British population older than 16 being smokers, compared with 24% in 2005.

    Since 1974, when the General Household Survey started monitoring cigarette smoking, prevalence has always been higher among men than among women. In 2006, 23% of men and 21% of women were smokers.

    Two thirds of cigarette smokers in Great Britain said that they wanted to quit, and 59% said it would be difficult to go the whole day without smoking.

    The second report, the Office for National Statistics Omnibus Survey, Drinking: Adults’ Behaviour and Knowledge in 2007, showed a growing awareness in the population about how alcohol consumption is measured.

    In 2007, 85% of adults had heard of measuring consumption in units compared with 79% a decade earlier.

    The number of adults who kept track of the units drunk a day had increased slightly from 15% in 2007 compared with 13% in 1997.

    The report also showed that adults were more likely to drink at home (50% of men and 52% of women) than in a pub or bar (33% of men and 22% of women) and that a woman’s most common drinking companion was likely to be their spouse or partner (40%) but a man was more likely to drink with his friends (45%).


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