Smokers feel the squeeze

Now that non-smokers outnumber smokers by two to one, the pressure to ban cigarette ads and sponsorship of sports events is building. This isn’t the only threat to the industry, as there is strong public support for raising the age for buying

Exclusive research by NOP, conducted immediately after National Non-Smoking day, demonstrates that smoking in Britain is a minority habit, non-smokers outnumbering smokers two to one. But the bad news for the campaigners is that the incidence of smoking is highest among the young: 40 per cent of 16- to 34-year-olds smoke, compared with 26 per cent of over 55s.

Men are slightly more likely to smoke than women and there is little regional difference in smoking habits. But ABs – the highest socio-economic grade – have much lower smoking rates than the rest of the population: only 17 per cent smoke, compared with 32 per cent of C1s, and 40 per cent of C2DEs. As ABs are the most affluent social class, smoking appears not to be influenced by the cost of cigarettes.

The majority – 58 per cent – of smokers claim to smoke between ten and 20 cigarettes on an “average” day, probably limiting themselves to the convenience of a pack a day. Thirteen per cent smoke over 20 and the remaining 24 per cent smoke less than ten a day. Five per cent smoke only cigars or a pipe.

In terms of cigarettes – by far the bulk of the tobacco market – about two-thirds of the total sales are to “pack-a-day” smokers. This means the cigarette market is an exception to the usual rule of thumb on volume – that the 20 per cent most heavy users account for about 80 per cent of volume in the category. In cigarettes, the heavy users are responsible for about a quarter of cigarettes smoked, about the same number as light smokers, although individually they are buying twice as many.

Equal numbers of men and women smoke fewer than ten cigarettes a day. There are slightly more women than men among the ten- to 20-a-day smokers, but the heavy smokers are two-thirds men. The under-35s are less likely than other smokers to be heavy smokers, and virtually none of this age group restricts itself to a pipe or cigars.

ABs are only half as likely as the rest of the smoking population to consume over 20 cigarettes a day. Heavy smokers are most likely to be found among DEs, and are slightly more prevalent in the North.

Non-smokers and ex-smokers

Of current non-smokers just over half have never smoked, a quarter used to be regular, and a fifth used to be occasional smokers. There are almost as many reformed smokers as there are current smokers in the UK. Seven out of ten of under-25s, and two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds have never smoked. In the older age groups, the proportion of people who have given up is highest, presumably reflecting a rise in awareness of the disadvantages of smoking. A quarter of current smokers claim to be “actively trying to give up”, although people who smoke less than ten cigarettes a day are nearly twice as likely to be trying to stop smoking than heavier smokers. A third of young smokers are trying to give up, slightly more than in any other age group.

Spontaneous awareness of cigarette advertising

Considering the longevity and creative renown of the major cigarette campaigns, and their consistently high spend, advertising awareness for cigarette brands is surprisingly low. The highest score is achieved by Benson & Hedges Silk Cut, recalled by 23 per cent of adults. Even among smokers this only rises to 30 per cent. Benson & Hedges Special Filter was named by nine per cent and a further 17 per cent mentioned Benson & Hedges without specifying the brand.

Marlboro ads were remembered by 13 per cent – both smokers and non-smokers. The only other brands to be named by more than five per cent of adults were Embassy at eight per cent, and Rothmans at five per cent. The combined John Player brands achieved seven per cent.

Although advertising awareness is higher among smokers, with two-thirds naming at least one brand, the low individual recall scores seem to indicate that smokers are remembering only one or two brands, probably the ones they buy.

Marketing and public policy issues

Smokers and non-smokers hold dramatically opposed views on potential legalisation about smoking, and about the future of tobacco marketing. Attitudes on these issues are remarkably consistent across age, sex or social class.

Opinion is evenly divided about the propriety of advertising and promoting cigarettes. Just over half the adult population came down on the side of prohibiting poster advertising for cigars and cigarettes. Magazine advertising and sports sponsorship emerged with slightly less opposition, just under half wanting these mediums banned.

Six out of ten non-smokers supported a ban on poster advertising for cigarettes or cigars, and a similar proportion of heavy smokers followed suit. Magazine ads aroused less fervour, although half of non-smokers and a third of smokers favoured a ban. A similar number supported an end of sports sponsorship by tobacco manufacturers.

The greatest consensus between smokers and non-smokers is on restricting tobacco sales to young people. Four out of ten smokers want the age limit to rise to 21. Only a third of 16- to 24-year-olds, however, agree.

The idea that “people should not expect care on the National Health Service for diseases caused by smoking” is only approved by a third of all adults, although non-smokers, and particularly those who have never smoked, support it more strongly.

The greatest divergence in opinion between smokers and non-smokers comes over the question: “Should smoking be banned in all public places?” It seems that personal convenience affects opinions more than the vaguer issues of policy.

Although two-thirds of adults approve to some extent, including a third of smokers, the mean scores show a dramatic contrast of opinion. Non-smokers give an average approval of eight out of ten – an unusually high rate in any opinion poll, while smokers average four out of ten, well below the agreement line.

This depth of anti-smoking feeling poses an interesting opport unity for pub and restaurant operators to appeal to non-smokers by offering them smoke-free facilities. As non-smokers form such a substantial majority, and are more prevalent among the affluent ABs, such a policy could prove extremely profitable.

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