The north of England has always had comparatively high smoking rates, although high rates do not actually mean that people in the north are using cigarettes “more”. To realize the true overview, it is necessary to ask what conditions are special to the north of England and what factors are simply northern indications of national trends.
The main reason why any individual will smoke is evident: nicotine is a product more addictive that heroin or cocaine and most smokers take up as youngsters, well before the legal age for cigarette sales. There are three essential reasons why smoking rates in the north of England particularly are comparatively high: a working through of historical trends; the accessibility of illegal tobacco products, and the ultimately major factor – comparative levels of disadvantage, deprivation and low income.
Many tobacco companies were based in the region – the company Ogden’s of Liverpool manufactured a brand – ‘Tabs’ – which has left its legacy in the vernacular for cigarettes and rollups in the northeast of England. There were three big factories in Co Durham alone in the last quarter of the 20th century. People in Spennymoor – the site of a big Rothmans factory – remember employers coming to the local secondary schools with cartons of cigarettes for the children to take home to their families. Those who worked at the Ogden’s factory in Liverpool recount being given 200 cigarettes per month free, many of which they marketed on to their mates.
Price is a key button in discouraging people from using tobacco, and the cigarette makers have been smart in launching ultra low-price brands to keep the hard-up smoking. While most smokers don’t smoke illicit tobacco products, the accessibility of counterfeit cigarettes at half the price of legally sold brands makes it less difficult for some who might otherwise stop smoking to continue. Such products are most commonly found and used amongst people from the low backgrounds.
Nevertheless, 40 percent of smokers try to stop smoking in any one year and the north of England has some of the best quitting services nationally. Furthermore, there is Fresh Smoke Free North East, the UK’s first dedicated tobacco control office which created the world’s first comprehensive system to counter illicit tobacco in 2009. Victorious projects such as this help explain the rapid drops.