Only 22% of the adult population now smoke, according to an official report.
The figure from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 2006 is a reduction on the 24% recorded in 2005.
In total, some 23% of men smoked in 2006, compared with 21% of women, the study added.
Women also smoke fewer cigarettes at an average 13 per day, compared with the male average of 15 a day.
But while campaigners had hoped the figures would show a faster decrease, the data is in marked contrast to 1974, when 45% of the adult population smoked.
Around 68% of smokers questioned in the latest survey also said they want to kick the habit.
"It is interesting that it is not the heaviest smokers who are most likely to want to stop," said the ONS report.
"This may be because they feel it would be too difficult or because they have been discouraged from wanting to stop by previous unsuccessful attempts."
Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "The government should be congratulated for this impressive result which shows what can be achieved if resources are given to tackling tobacco use.
"However, in order to drive smoking rates down even further it's important that the government builds on recent successes and implements a comprehensive tobacco control strategy."