The UK has just announced new plans to get a million smokers to switch to vaping. How does Europe compare in terms of smoking and vaping rates?
The UK government has announced new plans to wean a million smokers off tobacco and onto vaping with its world-first "swap to stop" initiative.
Smokers in England will be able to access vaping starter kits in a bid to help one in five current smokers quit the habit.
As part of the plans, which were announced on Tuesday, pregnant women will also be offered £400 (€456) to stop smoking.
The moves, which campaigners say are "welcome steps in the right direction," is part of a wider strategy to get the country "smoke-free" by 2030, or getting smoking rates down to roughly 5 per cent.
It comes just a day after plans to introduce an "illicit vapes enforcement squad" were announced in a bid to crack down on the illegal sales of vapes to under-18s in shops.
What's the situation in Europe and how does it compare?
Smoking in Europe
According to data compiled by Eurostat, 19.7 per cent of the EU population smokes daily. In 2019, 5.9 per cent smoked 20 or more cigarettes on a daily basis, and 12.6 per cent smoked fewer than 20 units.
The countries that smoke the most in the EU are Bulgaria, with 28.2 per cent of the population consuming tobacco daily, then Turkey (27.3 per cent), Greece (27.2 per cent), Hungary (25.8 per cent) and Latvia (24.9 per cent).
The countries with the fewest smokers are Sweden (9.3 per cent), Iceland (11.2 per cent), Finland (12.5 per cent), Norway (12.9 per cent) and Luxembourg (13.5 per cent).
Sweden, the European country with the lowest rates of smoking, has battled with cigarettes for years. Smoking was banned in all bars and restaurants in early 2005. In 2019, the ban was further extended to include outdoor seating in bars and restaurants as well as public places.
In the EU, men are more likely to smoke than women
Around Europe, men are more likely than women to smoke; 22.3 per cent of men aged 15 years old and over are daily cigarette smokers, compared with 14.8 per cent of women.
The countries where men smoke the most are Bulgaria (37.6 per cent), Latvia (34.4 per cent) and Romania (30.6 per cent). Conversely, the countries where women smoke the most are Germany (18.6 per cent), Croatia (19.2 per cent) and Bulgaria (20.7 per cent).
In Romania, 30.6 per cent of men smoke versus 7.5 per cent of women; in Bulgaria, 37.6 per cent are men, while 20.7 per cent are women; and in Latvia, 34.4 per cent are men versus 12.1 per cent of women.
In some countries, the difference between the two genders is narrower or even reversed.
In Sweden, despite its bans, it has been harder for women to quit smoking; 6.8 per cent still do, compared with 5.9 per cent of men.
In Denmark, 11.7 per cent of men smoke and 11.8 per cent of women.
In Norway, the difference is also narrow; 11 per cent of men smoke and women are two points behind at 9.4 per cent.
Most daily smokers have been smoking for at least 10 years
Figures suggest that across the EU, the vast majority of daily smokers in 2019 (76.2 per cent) had been smoking for at least 10 years.
The statistics say 78.1 per cent of men who are daily smokers have smoked for at least 10 years, compared with 73.5 per cent for women.
E-cigarettes: Who vapes the most?
Electronic cigarettes are often promoted as safer than regular burning cigarettes.
But a recent comprehensive study by the BMJ medical journal says it is not possible to determine whether they are less harmful to the respiratory system than regular cigarettes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the so-called e-liquids used in e-cigarettes - whether they contain nicotine or not - typically comprise additives, flavours and chemicals that can be toxic to people’s health.
According to the latest data from Eurostat, the nations that vape the most among EU member states are France (6.6 per cent), Poland (6.0 per cent) and the Netherlands (5.9 per cent), occasional and daily vaping combined.
The lowest share of vaping is reported to be in Spain (1.0 per cent); Turkey reported a slightly smaller share at 0.9 per cent.
Among current vapers, those who vaped daily outnumbered occasional users in Poland, Ireland, Greece, France Portugal and Iceland.
In 20 member states, former vapers outnumbered current vapers. The seven where there were more current vapers than former ones were Latvia, Croatia, Lithuania, Greece, the Netherlands, Czechia and Ireland.
Tobacco smoking is the major preventable cause of cancer
The WHO estimates tobacco is one of the biggest public health threats in the world, killing more than eight million people a year.
Despite considerable progress made in recent years, the number of smokers in the EU is still high. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety says tobacco consumption is the “single largest avoidable health risk and the most significant cause of premature death in the EU”.
In Europe, 757,677 of cancer cases are attributable to tobacco smoking and could be prevented, according to the international agency for Research on Cancer.
Around 50 per cent of smokers die prematurely, on average 14 years earlier.
It is interesting to note that Sweden, the country with the least amount of smokers in the bloc, is also the country with the lowest incidence of lung cancer.
Data from Finland, Luxembourg, and Portugal also shows a correlation with healthier lung cancer rates.
Eurostat is expected to publish its next report on figures on cigarette consumption in 2027.