Cigarette smoking among 15 year olds
Last updated 27 April 2020 - see all updates
1. Main facts and figures
8.2% of 15 year olds responding to the 2014/15 survey were smokers
smoking was least common amongst 15 year olds in the Black, Asian and Other ethnic groups
smoking was most common amongst 15 year olds in the White and Mixed ethnic groups
White 15 year olds were nearly 4 times more likely to be smokers than Black 15 year olds
The ethnic categories used in this data
Respondents were asked to select their ethnicity from standardised ethnic groups based on the 2011 census.
For this data, the number of people from specific ethnic categories surveyed (the ‘sample size’) was too small to draw any firm conclusions. Therefore, the data is broken down into the following 5 broad groups:
- Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
- Asian/Asian British
- Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
- Other ethnic group
2. By ethnicity
Summary of Cigarette smoking among 15 year olds By ethnicity Summary
A sample of approximately 300,000 young people were selected from the National Pupil Database (NPD) and contacted to take part in the postal survey, with the option to complete it online. Fieldwork ran between 22 September 2014 and 9 January 2015. A total of 120,115 out of 295,024 participants responded to the survey. In a minority of cases (1% of pupils selected for the 2014 survey), parents opted to take their children out of the survey. A £5 shopping voucher was used as a token of appreciation, which was conditional on completing the questionnaire. The response rate was 41%, when taking into account any undeliverable mail outs and opt-outs from the sampled pupils.
By using the NPD as a sampling frame, it was possible to stratify the sample to help ensure the sample was representative across a range of pupil and area characteristics. Data was weighted by gender, ethnicity, Free School Meal eligibility, quintile of the Index of Multiple Deprivation, and local authority to reflect the known population profile of 15 year olds in England (sourced from the NPD).
Both the numerator and the denominator were weighted to make them applicable to the population as a whole. Further details on the sampling methodology and weighting procedure can be found in the WAY survey technical report (PDF opens in a new window or tab)
Confidence intervals for each ethnic group are available in Download the data.
Based on survey responses, it’s estimated that 8.2% of all 15 year olds in England in 2014/15 were smokers. Because the WAY survey questioned a sample of 15-year-old smokers rather than all 15-year-old smokers, however, it’s impossible to be 100% certain of the exact percentage.
It’s 95% certain, however, that between 8.1% and 8.3% of all 15 year olds were smokers. In statistical terms, this is a 95% confidence interval, with a lower and upper confidence interval of 8.1% and 8.3%, respectively. This means that if 100 random samples were taken, then 95 times out of 100 the estimate would fall between 8.1% and 8.3%. But 5 times out of 100 it would fall outside this range.
The smaller the survey sample, the more uncertain the estimate and the wider the confidence interval. For example, fewer children from the Mixed ethnic group responded to the survey than White children, so we can be less certain about the estimate for the smaller group. This greater uncertainty is expressed by a wider confidence interval of between 8.2% and 9.8% for Mixed ethnic children.
Further technical information
4. Data sources
Type of data
Type of statistic
Purpose of data source
What About YOUth? 2014 (WAY 2014) is a newly-established survey designed to collect robust data on a range of health behaviours amongst 15 year-olds. This data is collected to understand smoking patterns in children and address the issues of reducing the uptake of smoking among children.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was commissioned by the Department of Health to run the survey in direct response to the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum. This Forum identified gaps in the Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) and other key health behaviour measures relating to young people. HSCIC contracted Ipsos MORI to carry out the survey.
WAY 2014 is the first survey to be conducted of its kind and it is hoped that the survey will be repeated in order to form a time series of comparable data on a range of indicators for 15 year-olds across England. Data has been collected on general health, diet, use of free time, physical activity, smoking, drinking, emotional wellbeing, drugs and bullying.
5. Download the data
This file contains the following: ethnicity, year, geography, value, confidence intervals, unweighted sample size