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Press Release

A million people have stopped smoking since the COVID pandemic hit Britain

15 Jul 2020

15 July 2020

A million people have stopped smoking since the COVID pandemic hit Britain

On the eve of a new campaign to engage more smokers to quit, new analysis by ASH and UCL finds that over a million people in the UK have stopped smoking since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. A further 440,000 smokers tried to quit during this period [1].

The campaign is supported by respiratory consultant Dr Ruth Sharrock, who has made a heartfelt plea for people to quit to protect their health. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness, causing cancer, heart and lung disease, and smokers who are hospitalised with COVID-19 more likely to suffer severe outcomes than non-smokers. Funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, it builds on successful campaigns in the North East and Greater Manchester and will target smokers in localities/local authority areas with the highest rates of smoking.

Dr Ruth Sharrock says:

“Every day of my working life I see the terrible health problems caused by smoking. But I have also been inspired by those already suffering from smoking related diseases, who have still managed quit and get health benefits from this. 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.”

Listen to the radio advert here.

While thousands have heeded advice to quit during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is great variation by age, with younger smokers quitting at a much greater rate than older smokers.

Around 400,000 people aged 16-29 have quit compared to 240,000 of those over 50. This difference is driven by rates of quitting among 16-29 year olds more than twice the rate those over 50 (17% of smokers and recent ex-smokers aged between 16-29 compared to 7% of those older than 50). People aged 30-49 have a slightly lower rate of quitting than the under 30s (13% of smokers and recent ex-smokers) but a similar number of people giving up smoking at around 400,000, due to the size of the population. [2]

The new campaign calls on smokers of all ages to make a change, but particularly those older smokers who might be more at risk. Smoking related illnesses which have been linked to worse outcomes from COVID-19 include COPD, diabetes, stroke and other heart conditions.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, Action on Smoking and Health says:

“Over a million smokers may have succeeded in stopping smoking since COVID-19 hit Britain, but millions more have carried on smoking. This campaign is designed to encourage those who’ve not yet succeeded, to wake up and decide today is the day to stop smoking.”

Lee from Castleford, West Yorkshire, smoked since he was 18, but encouragement from his niece got him to make a quit attempt and the COVID-19 crisis further spurred him on. He has now been smokefree for nearly five months. Lee had to give up work as a painter and decorator after an epileptic seizure, which smokers are four times more likely to experience, caused him to lose his sight in one eye. Lee said:

“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.

“With the present climate and coronavirus, I’m so glad I have quit. My niece who I am close to, was the person who motivated me – she said how much better I’d feel if I stopped smoking. I was sick of waking up, coughing and spluttering – so I made myself give quitting a go. Once the patches went on, that was it. My advice to people is to get to know the facts. If you put your mind to it, you can stop. You’ve got to be determined – but it does get easier.”


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: 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 please contact Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, ASH on 07976 935 987


[1] The survey was conducted between 15th April and 20th June 2020. It was an online survey using the YouGov panel with 10251 respondents. For more information on the YouGov Covid Tracker see: Additional analysis was undertaken by Action on Smoking and Health and University College London using ONS population data mid-year 2019 estimates. The central estimate is 1095409, with a 95% confidence interval of 947,096 to 1,259,014 people. This is a rate for short-term quit success and it remains to be seen if this translates into longer term quit success.

[2] The % figures are based on fieldwork between 15th April and 7th June and were based on 1370 smokers and ex-smokers.

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