More Than 1 Million People in the UK Quit Smoking

New YouGov survey estimated that many people stopped or cut back in the last four months.

Jul 27, 2020

(Suriyawut Suriya / Shutterstock.com)

Sometimes there is a silver lining. At least, there is hope for one in the UK where a new survey estimates that over 1 million people have quit smoking over the last four months. And many more have cut back or are working on quitting.

These remarkable results are part of an analysis by the organization Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the University College London (UCL) of a YouGov study according to CNN. The government of the UK is calling on older smokers to quit during the coronavirus pandemic because the virus has been shown to be more severe in smokers.

The study of 10,000 people showed that an additional 440,000 people are still trying to quit and that 2.4 million people have cut down on how much they smoke. What is even more striking is that younger people – aged 16-29 – have been quitting at twice the rate of older smokers according to an ASH press release.

Since 7.2 million people in the UK smoke, according to a 2019 report by the office for National Statistics, these figures are no small drop in the bucket.

The survey results were released just as a new campaign to urge people to quit smoking, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, built on the successful regional campaigns in the North East and Manchester is beginning.  The campaign is concerned with smokers of all ages but is directed to older smokers due to Covid19 concerns.

“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,” Dr Nick Hopkinson, the chairman of Ash told The Guardian.

Since smoking is the leading cause of cancer and heart disease, said the press release, smoking cessation is an important way to stay out of hospitals during the pandemic.

Lee, a former longtime smoker from Castleford, West Hampshire told ASH that his niece and fear of the pandemic made him quit. It was tough after I had to stop work. I used to get chest infections often, which I’m convinced were linked to smoking. Since quitting, I don’t even get coughs.”

Of course, no one knows if these people will return to smoking when the pandemic is over. "Given that the rate of long-term success in quitting tends to be low, this is very unlikely to translate to a million fewer smokers in the UK, which would be a large decline in prevalence," Dr. Sarah Jackson, a senior research fellow at UCL's Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group told CNN.

But even if the trend does not continue or if some people will go back to smoking, these numbers still translate into something very positive.

“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,” said Dr Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory medicine consultant, in ASH's press release.

These types of initiatives are not unique to the UK, the World Health Organization is also running a Quitting Tobacco initiative that gives people access to nicotine replacement therapy and to a digital health worker based on AI named Florence.  There really never has been a better time to quit smoking.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.