THE number of smokers in Halton has risen significantly over the last year, according to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

New figures analysed by NHS Digital show 5.9 million people across the UK smoked cigarettes in 2018 (14.4% of the population), down from 7.7 million in 2011 (19.8%).

It also says around 17.9% of Halton residents over the age of 18 smoked in 2018 compared to just 15% the year before.

Halton ranked higher than the national average for the number of smokers at 15%.

Neighbouring authorities ranked lower than Halton - in Liverpool 14.7% were smokers while 10.5% were smokers in Warrington.

Elsewhere e-cigarette use continues to rise, with 6.3% of adults vaping in 2018, up from 5.5% the previous year. Just over half (51.5%) of those vaping said it was to help them quit smoking.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, welcomed the data but said there were still "millions of smokers who aren't accessing vital NHS stop smoking support, which we know can make all the difference in quitting".

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said: "This is really positive news in the battle against the nation's biggest killer.

"Smoking in England is in terminal decline, with the lowest number of smokers ever and a smoke-free generation now in sight.

"Unfortunately smoking rates remain high amongst people on lower incomes and those experiencing mental health problems, and every effort and means to support them quitting is where we need to most focus."

Kingston upon Hull is believed to have the highest proportion of current smokers with 26.1% since 2015 while Brentwood has the lowest ranked with just 6.8% of the population.