SMOKING rates have fallen for the fourth successive year in St Helens – meaning the area is below the national average.

But campaign group Action on Smoking and Health says smoking remains the leading cause of premature death in the UK, and that there is a long way to go before the country is truly smoke-free.

The Office for National Statistics estimates 13.0 per cent of adults in St Helens smoked in 2019, down from 15.8 in 2018.

Smoking rates have fallen in the area every year since 2015, when 20.3% of those aged 18 and over smoked.

Throughout the UK, the proportion of smokers has fallen every year since 2011, reaching a record low of 14.1 per cent in 2019.

Across England, the rate now stands at 13.9 per cent – the lowest of all four countries in the UK.

But anti-smoking charity ASH said there are "enormous differences" across the country when it comes to smoking habits.

In Corby, in the East Midlands, 27.5 per cent of adults were smokers in 2019, compared to just 3.4 per cent in Hart, in the South East.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “The year-on-year decline in the proportion of people smoking has continued so only one in seven people now smoke, the lowest ever recorded.

"But that means there are 6.9 million smokers, and smoking remains the leading cause of premature death in the UK killing nearly 100,000 people a year, with 30 times as many living with serious smoking-related diseases.

"We’ve still got a long way to go before this country is truly smoke-free.”

The ONS estimates a further 25.8 per cent of adults have quit smoking in St Helens, with the remaining 61.2 per cent saying they had never done so.

Men were more likely to smoke than women – 13.3 per cent of males were smokers, compared to 12.8 per cent of females.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said England's smoking rate of 13.9 per cent is one of the best in Europe, but is still short of the Government's 2017 Tobacco control plan of 12 per cent or less.

She added: "The UK is recognised internationally for its tough regulatory approach on tobacco control and reducing smoking harms.

“However, we are not complacent and our ambition is for England to become a smoke-free society by 2030.”