Responses to the Guardian appeal for feedback about smoking behaviour during the current crises cited heightened anxiety and stress as reasons for increased smoking. Other reasons offered for the increased smoking rates were the relative freedom of working from home and an excuse to step outside.

The representative study of about 2,000 people was conducted between the 30th of April and the 13th of May in YouGov’s Covid-19 tracker. Approximately 2.2 million people in the UK may be smoking more than usual during the coronavirus crisis, a further 4.8 million are thought to be smoking the same amount as before the pandemic, while 1.9 million are believed to have cut down.

Quit for Covid campaign

About 2.2 million people in the UK may be smoking more than usual during the coronavirus crisis, while 1.9 million are believed to have cut down.
News of the survey came as Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) accused the government of taking too long to release £350,000 in funding for a “quit smoking for coronavirus” campaign by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Ash points out that this delay led to missing a unique “window of opportunity” to encourage smokers as the pandemic closes.

Quit for Covid is being run on a shoestring, and without adequate funding can only have a limited impact,” said Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash – which receives a £140,000 annual government grant along with funding from large charities. “The Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England are supportive and even asked us to apply for funding from the government’s charity scheme when it opened in April. We were told there would be a decision within a week, so the project could start in May and run till October.”

“Since then there has been radio silence and we understand the decision now rests with No 10. There is a window of opportunity to provide the support and encouragement smokers need to Quit for Covid, but it is closing fast,” added Arnott.

Study looking at the relationship between Covid-19 and increased smoking rates

In line with this, a UK paper recently published on BJGP Open pointed out that the Coronavirus outbreak risks an increase in smoking rates amongst England’s current and former smokers.

Titled “COVID-19: Risk of increase in smoking rates among England’s 6 million smokers and relapse among England’s 11 million ex-smokers”, the paper voiced the concerns of a Sessional GP, Medical Director at the centre for Health Research and member of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Pooja Patwardhan.

In line with arguments by other health experts, and the responses gathered by the Guardian survey, Patwardhan pointed out that the stress brought about by the current situation may have a negative impact on smoking rates. “As the world goes into lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation are likely to make the society very lonely and life more stressful,” she said.

“With my experience of working in preventive medicine and smoking cessation, the uncertainty and the stress might push current smokers to smoke more cigarettes and ex-smokers to relapse back to smoking. A perfect (bad) storm for relapsing and smoking more,” she added.

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