YouGov survey show half a million smokers have tried to quit because of COVID-19

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Health professionals back #QuitForCovid as major UK survey points to surge in motivation among smokers. Association of Directors of Public Health, Public Health England and hospital doctors back GP-led campaign to get smokers to quit

At least 300,000 people have quit smoking successfully, a further 550,000 have tried to quit and 2.4 million have cut down on the amount of cigarettes they smoke due to growing concerns around coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increased risk smokers face.

 

These estimates are based on findings from the UK arm of YouGov’s international Covid Tracker [1]. They come as evidence is showing that smokers in hospital who have coronavirus are at a higher risk than non-smokers of severe illness [2].

 

One Bristol GP who recognised the growing concerns among his patients who smoked was Dr Charlie Kenward who last month launched the campaign #QuitforCOVID on Twitter which has since been backed by the Smokefree Action Coalition [3] and respiratory clinicians. The Association of Directors of Public Health has now become the latest organisation to support calls for smokers to quit for COVID. Public Health England also back the calls, adding that quitting now can alleviate pressure on the NHS.

 

Smokers can find out how to get help with their quit attempts by visiting www.todayistheday.co.uk and ask questions of leading experts by tweeting @QuitforCOVID in a daily Twitter clinic.

 

Dr Kenward said: “I was in surgery talking to a Mother with her 9-year-old son. She works as a carer so I asked if she was worried about the virus. She said she was worried about catching it because she is a smoker. I asked her why not quit? She looked at her son who looked back at her and nodded. This is something all smokers can do now so that’s why I’m asking smokers to #QuitforCovid.”

“There has never been a better time to quit and with a wealth of resources available to support you, I urge people to take control of your health and stop smoking today.”

 

Ruth Tennant, Tobacco lead for the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “There are so many reasons to quit smoking but never a more important time than right now during the coronavirus pandemic. Emerging evidence suggests that smoking puts people more at risk from severe complications from COVID-19, and the ADPH is supporting efforts to encourage smokers to quit for COVID.”

 

Rosanna O’Connor, acting Health Improvement Director, Public Health England said: “Quitting smoking now will bring immediate benefits to your health, reducing the risk of heart and lung problems for you and those around you. That’s good news for smokers and good news for our NHS”

 

Smokers are also much more at risk of range of serious health problems requiring them to be admitted to hospital such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. They are also at more risk of complications if they have an operation [4].

 

Professor Ravi Mahajan, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said, “I’m delighted to support the #QuitforCOVID campaign. Patients who stop smoking four weeks before an operation have 19 per cent fewer complications.”

 

Dr Nick Hopkinson, Respiratory Specialist at Imperial College London and Chair of Action on Smoking Health, (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.”

 

The YouGov survey – the first in the UK to reveal how coronavirus is impacting smokers’ attitudes towards cigarettes, shows that COVID-19 is significantly increasing smokers’ motivation to quit and to stay quit. It finds that:

 

  • 8% of smokers have tried to quit because of COVID – this equates to around 550,000 smokers in UK trying to quit. [5]
  • 36% have cut down how many cigarettes they smoke. This equates to around 2.4 million smokers cutting down the amount they smoke because of concerns over COVID-19 [5].
  • 2% of ex-smokers [6] say that they have quit completely recently due to COVID -19. This equates to around 300,000 people who are now ex-smokers because of concerns over COVID-19 [5].
  • A quarter of ex-smokers say that COVID-19 makes it less likely they will relapse to smoking (4% say it makes it more likely they will relapse)
  • 27% of smokers say they are more likely to quit because of COVID

 

While concerns around COVID-19 appears to be reducing smoking overall, 14% of smokers say it has made them less likely to quit as a result.

 

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) which worked with YouGov on the survey, said:

 

COVID-19 is making everyone much more concerned about staying healthy, and for people who smoke that means quitting.”

 

“This survey shows that COVID-19 has increased the desire of many smokers to quit. It is important that health professionals are still able to offer them the support they need to give them the best chance to succeed.”

 

One area seeing more enquiries from smokers to the stop smoking service is Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Rachel Nichol, CGL Project Manager Newcastle Stop Smoking Service, said:

 

“The hub service has seen about a 20% increase in number of clients accessing the service as a result of COVID-19. We normally have between 180-200 clients on our caseload at any one time. We currently have 242 and we continue to receive referrals every day.

 

“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 as 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.

 

“However, we know people often cite stress as a reason to smoke and advisers are also reporting some clients say they feel too anxious to stay quit.  We are reminding people that now is a really important time to stop and that in the long term, quitting is proven to improve mood and reduces anxiety as well as improvements in health and saving money.”

 

For more information and support to quit people can visit TodayistheDay.co.uk

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