HAMPSHIRE, England, May 27, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- A study done during the UK's first lockdown, involving nearly 2000 respondents from around the UK has found that, contrary to some previous hopeful reports, COVID-19 may have dealt a serious blow to the UK's ambitions to become smokefree in the coming decade. In a paper published this week based on the study, the authors warn about worrying changes in smoking and smoking cessation behaviours.
We already know that a higher proportion of unemployed adults, those in manual occupations, and those with mental health conditions are likely to smoke compared to the general population in the UK. "Findings from our research study showed that smokers under 45 years of age, a higher proportion of those in managerial and professional occupations, and current dual users reported increased smoking in lockdown. It is concerning to see that a change in the smokers' and their healthcare advisers' routines during the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening to reverse the past few decades of gains in stubbing out smoking in the country. The broader aim of our Smokefree UK project is to identify the barriers and opportunities to help all the remaining smokers to quit sustainably", states Dr Sudhanshu Patwardhan, Medical Director of the Hampshire based Centre for Health Research and Education (CHRE) and study lead.
Two groups of respondents were surveyed in this study: 'consumers' and their likely health 'influencers'. Nearly one thousand consumers were surveyed, including current smokers and dual users (consumers who smoke as well as vape) and ex-smokers. An increase in smoking was reported by 67% of smokers and dual users during the COVID-19 lockdown. The COVID-19 situation changed the plans to quit smoking in 36% of smokers and dual users, with only 6% deciding to quit.
A greater proportion of respondents in managerial and professional occupations reported increased smoking, and dual users reduced vaping, during the lockdown. Ms Claudia Trainer, co-author and Consultant at Ogilvy Consulting's Behavioural Science Practice admits that it is a worrying finding and explains "Many people have transitioned to working from home during the pandemic. This may provide more environmental opportunity to smoke, with different social influences, than in the workplace. Additionally, lockdowns can heighten feelings of stress and boredom."
Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy and founder of Ogilvy Consulting's Behavioural Science Practice, applies behavioural economics to the findings, "There has been a significant change in routine which is commonly associated with formation of new habits. Stress and uncertainly related to the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a lot of unintended negative consequences on many people's mental health and lifestyle. These might only be evident over the next few decades, but could add significant health as well as financial burdens on society."
Dr Patwardhan states the urgency of action needed in response to these findings: "Especially worrying is the resurgence of smoking among the under-45 year old professionals. They are otherwise healthy, rarely seek general practice appointments or other health advice, and if not proactively given support to quit smoking now, could directly present with a tobacco related disease in the near future."
Besides consumers, another thousand respondents were surveyed from professions that may have a role in influencing smokers' decision and outcome in stopping smoking. These included general practitioners, practice nurses, community mental health nurses, dentists, stop smoking advisors, pharmacists and vape shop owners. COVID-19 put an unprecedented strain on the healthcare system, with many consultations done remotely. It was evident that inquiring about smoking and offering opportunistic cessation support got deprioritised in routine general practice. E.g., only 40% of healthcare professionals documented patient smoking status in over half their interactions.
Dr Patwardhan sums up "COVID-19 and its related social and health impact may linger for the foreseeable future. We need to keep smoking cessation and relapse prevention top on the healthcare agenda and support all smokers to 'commit to quit'. The "new normal" reality of health-seeking behaviour and remote clinical practice is going to be part of our lives. It will be crucial for innovators of smoking cessation tools such as smartphone apps, and manufacturers of suitably regulated safer nicotine products, to provide the necessary breadth of choice and a sustainable way out of smoking for Britain's remaining nearly seven million smokers.
Notes to Editors
- More than 14% of adults in England (more than 6 million people) smoke cigarettes regularly
- Chronic smoking kills over eighty thousand people in the UK every year
- The Government has stated its ambitions to have a 'smokefree England' by 2030, that is, with less than 5% of regular adult smokers.
- The UK's journey to becoming smokefree (defined as <5% smoking prevalence) can be considered to be in its final laps.
- May 31st is the World Health Organization promoted 'World No Tobacco Day'. This year's theme is "Commit to Quit".
- The study referred to in this release is published as a pre-print on MedRxiv. It was not peer reviewed.
- The Royal College of Physician's (RCP) 'Smoking and health 2021' report published last week stated that modelling of current tobacco control policies shows a failure to achieve a smoking prevalence of <5% until after 2050.
About the Centre for Health Research and Education (CHRE):
- CHRE is an independent, Hampshire UK based healthcare company founded by medical doctors with a mission of global cancer prevention.
- CHRE were supported by Ogilvy Consulting's Behavioural Science Practice in the design of the questionnaires and data analysis, and Atomik Research for executing the market research
- This report is part of CHRE's 'Smokefree UK' project. The project is conceptualised, designed, led and managed by CHRE. CHRE applied for and was awarded a grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Inc (FSFW) for a part of this project. The contents, selection, and presentation of facts, as well as any opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the authors and under no circumstances shall be regarded as reflecting the positions of FSFW.
- CHRE's philosophy and approach are to bridge the policy and practice gap in delivering smoking cessation treatments and services globally.