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Almost half of UK smokers have tried to quit or reduce smoking habit because of Covid-19


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By Isabel Shaw
Reporter

04 May 2020

Almost half of all smokers in the UK have tried to give up or reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke after growing evidence suggests smokers who have Covid-19 are at a higher risk than non-smokers of severe illness and death.

According to recent data published by YouGov and the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Covid-19 has ‘significantly’ increased smokers’ motivation to quit and has reduced smoking habits.

Figures from the survey of 1,004 people suggested that 2% of smokers in the UK have successfully quit smoking; 8% have tried to give up completely; while 36% of smokers have cut down on the cigarettes they smoke. This may mean that almost 3 million people in the UK may have cut down or stopped smoking because of concerns over Covid-19.

300,000 smokers have successfully quit

This data also indicates that 300,000 UK smokers have successfully stopped smoking because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A quarter of former smokers in the survey said they were currently less likely to resume smoking, although 4% of participants said the pandemic had made them more likely to relapse.

Concerns raised by Covid-19 appear to have reduced smoking habits overall, but 14% of smokers said the pandemic had made them less likely to quit.

Similarly, findings from another survey conducted by consumer survey company Toluna has indicated an increase in Covid-19 induced stress, which has led 10% of smokers to increase their smoking habits.

‘Smoking harms the immune system and our ability to fight off infections’

Dr Nick Hopkinson, Respiratory Specialist at Imperial College London and Chair of ASH said: ‘Smoking harms the immune system and our ability to fight off infections. Evidence is growing that smoking is associated with worse outcomes in those admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

‘Quitting smoking also rapidly reduces people’s risk of other health problems such as heart attacks and strokes – those are bad whenever they happen, so preventing them is an end in itself, but it’s especially important at a time like now when everyone is keen to stay out of hospital.’

As more people have attempted to reduce or kick their smoking habits completely, pharmacy teams in England and Wales have reported an increased number of people purchasing products associated with smoking cessation services.

Surge in smoking cessation services in pharmacies

Sunil K Kochhar, the independent prescriber and owner of Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend spoke of the ‘influx of patients in recent weeks coming into [the] pharmacy wanting to quit smoking.’

‘The demand has skyrocketed,’ he said, ‘I’ve had to start offering the smoking cessation service virtually to serve the demand.’

‘I think in many ways coronavirus has been a big wake-up call for them’

Managing director of the Mayberry Pharmacy Group in South Wales, Paul Mayberry, also confirmed the surge in demand for smoking cessation products across his own seven pharmacies in South Wales.

Chief Executive Officer at PharmaDoctor, Graham Toms, told the Pharmacist that he had seen an increase in demand from pharmacies for smoking cessation services since the outbreak of the virus.

Other Stop Smoking Services have seen a similar increase in demand for the service in recent weeks.

Rachel Nichol, CGL Project Manager Newcastle Stop Smoking Service, said that the hub she works at ‘has seen about a 20% increase in the number of clients accessing the service as a result of Covid-19. We normally have between 180 to 200 clients on our caseload at any one time. We currently have 242 and we continue to receive referrals every day.’

She added: ‘Everyone is obviously anxious about Covid-19 but many smokers coming into our service right now are telling us they are worried about the additional risks of getting worse symptoms from coronavirus if you smoke and are telling us that this is a reason for stopping.

‘At present, clients in treatment who are worried about coronavirus seem to be more determined to stay with the programme and therefore more committed to staying quit. As a result, early data indicates that we have a reduced drop-out rate.’

#QuitforCOVID campaign has backing from healthcare teams

This news comes following the launch last month of the #QuitforCOVID campaign on Twitter. Which was started by a Bristol GP who recognised the growing concerns among his patients who smoked.

Since its launch, the campaign has been backed by the Smokefree Action Coalition, respiratory clinicians and The Association of Directors of Public Health. Public Health England has recently added their support after claiming that quitting smoking will help to alleviate pressures felt by the NHS.

Last week, Boots announced that Safe spaces have been set up in its pharmacies across the UK so that victims of domestic abuse can seek help during the Covid-19 lockdown.


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