A new report has been released outlining the terrible impact that vape shop closures, along with an increased trouble in accessing smoking cessation services have has during the lockdowns. It’s estimated that over half a million more people have now taken up smoking, desire Action on Smoking and Health previously claiming “record numbers” have quit.
The largest rise seems to be within the 18 to 24 year old age group, as around 600,000 adults started smoking again, completely subverting a 40 year long declining trend. Some factors seem to include unemployment, stress and poor mental health experienced as a result of the lockdowns.
One of the Health Minister’s advisors said the findings mean the government would have to take “drastic and immediate action”.
He stated: “Our model indicates that as a result of the pandemic there could be up to 600,000 additional smokers next year than originally forecast. This is due to wider population health impacts from the pandemic such as increased unemployment and mental health.
“Some areas of the country are currently four or five times above the stated 5% ambition level and such local variation presents a major barrier to delivering on the target. A major package of national action needs to be introduced this year including local targeted support to get back on track to eliminating smoking in England. Doing so will be fundamental to levelling-up the health inequalities that have been so clearly exposed by the pandemic.”
The report outlined and recommended:
- Accelerating national action. The publication this summer of the Tobacco Control Plan must set out a trajectory to deliver on the government’s target including a new national awareness campaign to help people quit.
- A pandemic health impact assessment. The Office of Health Promotion should undertake this exercise and use the results as a basis for plotting more targeted smoking interventions that tackle the pandemic impacts including: ensuring those who have quit smoking continue not to smoke; and those that smoke, particularly younger smokers who have started smoking, quit quickly.
- Increasing the public health grant. At the next spending review, support local authorities in delivering against the government’s 5% target, especially those areas with particularly high rates of smoking. And include a metric on smoking rates as part of the planned ‘levelling up’ white paper.
In areas such as Corby, Northamptonshire, the government faces its greatest challenge, as the smoking rate is among the highest.