THE rate of smokers in the North-East continues to decline, according to new figures.

According to a study conducted by the Office for National Stations, 15.3 per cent of adults in the region are now smokers - equivalent to around 325,000 people.

The figure represents the biggest fall in smoking in England since 2005 when 29 per cent -or 581,000 - of North-Easterners smoked.

In Northumberland, the proportion of smokers has risen slightly, however the county’s rate remains the lowest in the region.

The proportion of smokers in Northumberland last year was 12.9 per cent, up from 12.1 per cent in 2018, but this remained the lowest rate of the 12 North-East local authorities, just ahead of Newcastle with 13per cent. The highest prevalence in the region was in Hartlepool – 19.3%.

The county’s figure was lower than the UK rate of 14.1 per cent – which fell from 14.7 the previous year – and the English average of 13.9 per cent.

In 2019, 13.7 per cent of men in the county smoked, up from 12.5 per cent, while 12.1 per cent of women were smokers, increasing from 11.7 per cent. These proportions were the lowest and second lowest in the North-East respectively.

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “Stop smoking services in the region have helped thousands to quit smoking, with Northumberland in particular having helped over 36,000 to break the habit over its lifetime.

“Smoking rates continue to fall and the North-East has seen one of the greatest declines in smoking prevalence despite hosting some of the regions’ most deprived communities.”

She added: “Helping our residents stop smoking remains a top priority and we will continue to work towards our goal of making smoking history.”

Following the release of the ONS figures, Fresh, the region’s tobacco control programme, said the change was all the more remarkable given how deep-rooted smoking had been in many communities in the North-East.

But it said smoking was still the biggest preventable killer causing over 77,000 deaths a year in England and a key driver of health inequalities.

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: “Reducing smoking rates has been a huge collaborative achievement, especially for the North-East where smoking was a normal part of life in many communities and families.

“Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it is estimated more than half of people smoked. It was a time when tobacco companies enjoyed absolute freedom and were fiercely advertising to encourage more women to smoke.

“We have reduced smoking through a series of vital measures which have taken over half a century after the lung cancer risks were proven.

“Removing advertising, smokefree law, raising the age of sale to 18, standardised plain packaging, free stop smoking services and running media campaigns, amongst others, have been pivotal, despite tobacco companies fighting each and every one. “Despite all this, smoking remains our biggest preventable killer with 15 people in the North-East dying each day from tobacco. We celebrate countless stories each day of people enjoying new freedoms from quitting smoking, but let’s not forget the pain of people losing their loved ones.

“Since the start of the pandemic we have also seen an increase in smokers trying to quit.”