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COVID-19 concerns cause more than a million Brits to quit smoking

More than one million people in the United Kingdom have given up smoking since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study by the non-profit Action on Smoking and Health or ASH, writes Sophia Ankel for Business Insider. Four in 10 people said it was a direct response to heightened health concerns during the pandemic.

The study by ASH and University College London also found that older people are quitting at slower rates than younger people, despite being categorised in the more vulnerable group.

The obligatory human angle

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Saurav Dutt smoked up to six cigarettes a day.

The 38-year-old author from London first took up the habit as a way to unwind from college exams. But as the years went by he found that it helped him focus, and it became essential to his writing process.

"Smoking inspires my writing … and drives me out of dark moods when I hit writer blocks or doubt my efforts," Dutt told Business Insider.

But as COVID-19 gripped the world, Dutt – who had tried quitting in the past, but never succeeded – decided it was finally time to give up. So, after 18 years of smoking, he quit.

"I don't want to be one of those people in a ward with an oxygen mask over my face struggling to tell my loved ones what I'm feeling," Dutt explained to Business Insider. "COVID-19 has brought the issue of personal health into focus for me like never before."

One million quitters

According to a recent survey by the UK charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), conducted by 15 April and 20 June, more than one million people in Britain have given up smoking.

Of those people, almost half (41%) said it was a direct response to heightened health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, the study added. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has so far killed more than 700,000 people worldwide, reports Business Insider.

Their reaction is understandable: COVID-19 is known to attack the respiratory system first, with symptoms including bad cough and shortness of breath.

Smokers may have higher risk of getting severe coronavirus symptoms. In the last few months, researchers have been trying to find out how strong the link between smokers and severe coronavirus cases really is.

More young people are giving up smoking 

According to Business Insider, younger smokers appear to be giving up smoking at a much higher rate than their older counterparts.

The study by ASH found that of the one million people who quit between April and June, 400,000 were aged between 16 and 25.

"For young people who have been quitting, there's a desire to generally be more healthy, and take control at a time in their lives where that control has been taken away," Hazel Cheeseman, policy director for ASH, told Business Insider.

"Younger people are more likely to be in employment that's been disrupted, or have their education or social lives disrupted. Their lives have been much more affected by the experience of lockdown, whereas older people have been in their own homes and maintained their own space."

Cheeseman said that ASH's findings have been "surprising" considering it is older people who are more at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

While the survey results showed a sign of short-term success for smokers giving up, it remains to be seen if this translates into a continued pattern, continues Business Insider.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the disease poses particular risks to smokers. At a press briefing in July, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Smoking kills eight million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive."

 

A million people have stopped smoking since the COVID pandemic hit Britain

On 15 July 2020, on the eve of a new campaign to engage more smokers to quit, a study by ASH and University College London has found that more than a million people in the UK have stopped smoking since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. A further 440,000 smokers tried to quit during this period.

The campaign is supported by respiratory consultant Dr Ruth Sharrock, who has made a heartfelt plea for people to quit to protect their health. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness, causing cancer, heart and lung disease, and smokers who are hospitalised with COVID-19 more likely to suffer severe outcomes than non-smokers.

Funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, it builds on successful campaigns in the North East and Greater Manchester and will target smokers in localities-local authority areas with the highest rates of smoking.

Dr Ruth Sharrock says: “Every day of my working life I see the terrible health problems caused by smoking. But I have also been inspired by those already suffering from smoking related diseases, who have still  managed quit and get health benefits from this.

“My message to smokers today is, please, do not wait. Whether you are healthy now or already unwell because of smoking, today is the day to stop. It can transform your life.”

While thousands have heeded advice to quit during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is great variation by age, with younger smokers quitting at a much greater rate than older smokers.

Around 400,000 people aged 16-29 have quit compared to 240,000 of those over 50. This difference is driven by rates of quitting among 16-29 year olds more than twice the rate those over 50 (17% of smokers and recent ex-smokers aged between 16-29 compared to 7% of those older than 50).

People aged 30-49 have a slightly lower rate of quitting than the under 30s (13% of smokers and recent ex-smokers) but a similar number of people giving up smoking at around 400,000, due to the size of the population.

The new campaign calls on smokers of all ages to make a change, but particularly those older smokers who might be more at risk. Smoking related illnesses which have been linked to worse outcomes from COVID-19 include COPD, diabetes, stroke and other heart conditions.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, Action on Smoking and Health says: “Over a million smokers may have succeeded in stopping smoking since COVID-19 hit Britain, but millions more have carried on smoking. This campaign is designed to encourage those who’ve not yet succeeded, to wake up and decide today is the day to stop smoking.”

The survey

The survey was conducted between 15 April and 20 June 2020. It was an online survey using the YouGov panel with 10,251 respondents.

Additional analysis was undertaken by Action on Smoking and Health and University College London using ONS population data mid-year 2019 estimates. The central estimate is 1,095,409, with a 95% confidence interval of 947,096 to 1,259,014 people. This is a rate for short-term quit success: it remains to be seen if this translates into longer term quit success.

 

[link url="https://www.businessinsider.co.za/coronavirus-smokers-quit-record-numbers-study-2020-8"]More than a million people in the UK quit smoking since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, study shows[/link]

 

[link url="https://ash.org.uk/media-and-news/press-releases-media-and-news/pandemicmillion/"]A million people have stopped smoking since the COVID pandemic hit Britain[/link]

 

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