SMOKING rates in the North-East have hit a historic low, new figures show.

Smoking rates among adults in the North East fell from 18.7 per cent in 2015 to 17.2 per cent last year, NHS Digital said.

There was also a slight fall in smoking rates during pregnancy, from 16.7 per cent to 16 per cent.

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Across England the percentage of adults who are smokers fell from 16.9 per cent to 15.5 per cent year, the largest fall in the last 40 years.

The largest decline was among young people with smoking rates having fallen among 18-24 year olds by 6.5 per cent since 2010.

In 2005, 29 per cent of adults in the North-East were smokers and the rates have been gradually falling over the last decade, but are still higher than the national average.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, the North-East anti-smoking group, said many thousands of lives were likely to be saved from the reductions.

She said: “The region has come a long way in the last decade with more families than ever making smoking history.

“We’re also delighted to see smoking in pregnancy falling. The North-East approach to tackling smoking during pregnancy – where midwives raise this with women and refer them to support to quit – has had calls to be rolled out nationally.

“The last year has seen the introduction of plain, standardised packs and figures suggest this may have already had an impact on smokers.

“What is also really encouraging are discussions about the important role the NHS can play to ensure every smoker going to hospital is offered support to quit and is treated for tobacco dependency.”