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Smokers are quitting for COVID

TITD QuitForCovid SocialMediaGraphic-01


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 that smokers face.


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


This week the #QuitforCOVID campaign is being launched by the Smokefree Action Coalition, Fresh and respiratory clinicians. Fresh has also launched a new radio and online campaign running in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham to highlight the risks and the benefits of quitting to health.


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 and nearly 27,000 people in the North East. [3]
  • 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 [3]. In the North East that would mean over 120,000 people cutting down.
  • 2% of ex-smokers [4] 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 [3].
  • 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.


The Association of Directors of Public Health and Public Health England have also joined the call for smokers to quit for COVID-19.


Professor Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health for Newcastle and lead Director of Public Health for tobacco in the North East, said: "This is a worrying time for everyone and we are all looking for ways to minimise our risk. As well as hand washing and social distancing, quitting smoking is one very important and positive step for anyone who smokes.


"You would be hard pressed to find any family in the North East that doesn't have one family member who has been affected by smoking. Historically we have had higher rates of smoking and even though rates have nearly halved since 2005, smoking still causes over 5000 deaths a year in the North East. It's vital that we keep a focus on reducing smoking and clearly communicate the many reasons to give quitting a go. It is never too late, you're never too old, and there are immediate benefits".


Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh, said: "There has possibly never been a more important time to quit smoking than right now. COVID-19 is focusing everyone's minds on staying healthy and for people who smoke, quitting is an incredibly important step.


"We are launching this campaign because smoking has emerged very clearly from doctors and from studies around the world as causing worse complications from coronavirus. This must be worrying news for smokers, but it is something that everyone have a right to know.


"We are encouraging anyone who smokes to give quitting a go now – even if you've tried before, it is never too late to try to quit and stopping brings benefits at any age."


Dr Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory consultant and member of the Gateshead Smokefree Alliance, said: "In the last two months we have seen the devastating effects of COVID across the North East, with all hospitals currently running additional intensive care services to support patients and all of us seeing patients dying from this virus.


"I know that my patients are understandably scared and are taking their shielding or social distancing very seriously. Everybody wants to think about the ways that they can improve their health and fitness, as this has been a frightening wake up call for us all.


"For smokers, the single most important thing they can do to improve their health, reduce their risks from respiratory tract infections, as well as reducing risks of cancer, COPD and heart disease, and improve their life expectancy is to stop smoking. The delivery of Stop Smoking Services has been affected by COVID19 but we are working on lots of ways of getting around this. We want to help people, now more than ever, to take this huge step to improve their health. Please try. Try again. Ask for help."


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 [5].


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: ""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."


Philip Kyle, 55, from Kingston Park, Newcastle, has decided to quit smoking after 30 years to protect his health during the COVID-19 outbreak.  After several unsuccessful quit attempts, Phil is more determined to quit this time with the help of his local stop smoking service.




Phil said:

"I started smoking in the late eighties when I was eighteen and in the military. It was my only passion at the time and I really enjoyed it. I used to smoke around 20 a day but it varied depending on what I was doing.


"Over the last 30 years I have tried to quit several times using a variety of methods such as going cold turkey and using medication like Champix, but I've never managed to quit successfully. I even lasted several months, but for various reasons I started smoking again.


"The last time I quit was about three years ago when I had to have major surgery due to a serious health condition. I was determined to quit, as I knew it would help me recover much better in the long term and I did really well. Unfortunately, we then sadly lost my dad and my mum, who has dementia, had to go into residential care and it was a very stressful time for us all, so I started smoking again to help alleviate some of the stress.


"I then had to have further surgery in the summer of 2019 and I began thinking about quitting again, but it didn't feel like it was the right time - not that there is ever a right time. Looking back I think I was just trying to find an excuse not to try again, as I had failed several times before.


"My wife and daughter have been incredibly supportive and kept trying to encourage me to have another quit attempt. However, it wasn't until the coronavirus outbreak happened that I seriously considered giving it another go.


"Due to my health condition I am immunosuppressed, which means I am in the high risk group of developing COVID-19 complications so I am having to shield. I am very concerned about contracting COVID-19 as it would have very serious implications for me, so I thought now was the right time to quit smoking for good. I'm determined to beat the addiction this time.


"I knew I needed support to quit so I contacted Health Works Newcastle and spoke to one of their advisors, who was brilliant. I'm now using nicotine patches and also a nasal spray to help with the cravings. It's only been four days since I quit but I have started to notice some benefits - my sense of smell has returned and my taste is slowly coming back too. I'm also a fairly active person, but I have noticed I have slightly more energy.


"I have also decided to have an incentive for quitting this time, so I am going to put £20 away every two days to save up to buy two female Golden Retriever puppies, as we sadly lost our dog quite recently.


"My advice to anyone who is considering quitting smoking - give it a go and find a method that will work for you. If I can do it, so can you".



Professor Peter Kelly, Public Health England Regional Director and NHS Director of Public Health North East and Yorkshire 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"


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 now supporting efforts to encourage smokers to quit for COVID."


What other national medics say:


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."


#Quit forCOVID was launched on Twitter by Bristol-based family GP Dr Charlie Kenward and has been rolled out by the Smokefree Action Coalition 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.


Dr Kenward said: "Stopping smoking remains the single biggest thing people can do to improve their overall health. It will improve heart and lung health as well as reducing the chances of developing cancer and even improve wound healing after surgery.


"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."


Smokers can find out how to get help with their quit attempts by visiting and ask questions of leading experts by tweeting @QuitforCOVID.