COVID-19 drives ‘astonishing’ quit rate among young smokers: Experts ask if trend will survive loosening lockdown



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23 June 2020

COVID-19 drives ‘astonishing’ quit rate among young smokers: Experts ask if trend will survive loosening lockdown

Smokers under 30 are more than twice as likely to have stopped smoking because of COVID-19 than those over 50, new research published today shows.[1] This bucks usual trends, which see smokers of all ages quit at similar rates,[2] and is despite older smokers being more likely to have health conditions which place them at risk from COVID-19, such as COPD and diabetes.[3]

Analysis undertaken by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and University College London (UCL) of 1370 smokers and recent ex-smokers surveyed as part of the YouGov COVID-19 Tracker, found that 5% said they had quit smoking in response to COVID-19. However, among smokers under 30, 7% said they had quit because of COVID-19 (a further 10% said they’d quit for other reasons since the COVID-19 pandemic) while only 3% of smokers over 50 had quit due to COVID-19 (a further 5% said they had quit for other reasons).

This difference in quit rates between older and younger smokers contrasts with quitting behaviour before lockdown. Long term tracking of smoking behaviour by academics at UCL finds only small difference in quit attempts between older and younger smokers before the COVID-19 lockdown.

Dr Sarah Jackson, behavioural scientist at UCL says:

“The difference in rates of quitting between age groups is quite astonishing. Older smokers do not seem to have responded to the coronavirus pandemic in same way as younger smokers. However, we know younger smokers tend to struggle more with relapse and those who feel they might go back to smoking should look for support to stay quit.”

Smokers looking for more support should visit www.TodayistheDay.co.uk [4] or speak to a local pharmacist or vape shop about using alternative sources of nicotine to stay quit.

There are a number of reasons why under 30s might have been more likely to change their smoking habits since lockdown:

  • Social lives have been completely disrupted. Young people’s smoking behaviour is more likely to be tied to social settings than older people’s. With the loss of pubs, bars, parties and other social gatherings many young smokers may have had fewer opportunities to smoke and been more inclined to quit.
  • Young people have lost their jobs. Young people are more likely to work in industries that have suffered heavily as a result of lockdown, such as hospitality. Reduced incomes may be a big motivator for some to quit, given that young smokers are more price sensitive than older smokers.
  • Moving back to the family home. There have been reports of more young people moving home as a result of the pandemic and lockdown. This change of circumstances may be driving a change in behaviour for many.

Carisse, 19, worked on reception at a gym until lockdown. She quit smoking as part of focusing on her health while she was furloughed during lockdown:

“I started smoking at thirteen to fit in. At first it was social but then I smoked more to cope with stress – up to 20 a day if I was drinking. But I wanted to focus on health and fitness while I was furloughed. Lockdown has shown me that I don’t want or need to smoke, it’s just a desire to fit in with other people. I’ve been using the Smoke Free app to monitor health improvements and my nails and teeth are no longer stained, I feel a lot healthier. I’ve got no intention of going back.”

Deborah Arnott is the Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which is leading a coalition of charities calling on smokers to Quit for Covid. She says:

“It is fantastic to see so many young people taking control of their health in this way. It is never too late to quit smoking but the sooner you do the bigger the reward for your health. We want to see more smokers join in and quit for COVID, there has never been a better time to do your lungs a favour and quit.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see: www.ash.org.uk/about-ash. ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

ASH staff are available for interview. For more information send an email to press@ash.org.uk or phone Hazel Cheeseman (Director of Policy, ASH) on 07754 358 593.

References

[1] The survey data was collected between 13th April and 29th June. It was an online survey using the YouGov panel with 1370 respondents who were smokers or who had quit smoking in the last 4 months. For more information on the YouGov Covid Tracker see: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2020/03/17/YouGov-international-COVID-19-tracker

Further analysis was conducted by ASH and UCL using the YouGov findings

[2] Quitting intention by age – Long term tracking of smoking behaviour by academics at UCL

[3] Public Health England. Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19. June 2020

[4] ASH alongside other regional and local partners have been co-ordinating #QuitForCovid campaign to engage and support smokers in quitting. See launch PR here: https://smokefreeaction.org.uk/around-300000-smokers-quitforcovid/