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Fag Fires Blaze During COVID

Despite extraordinary claims made by ASH UK about people quitting smoking, the London Fire Brigade reports a boom in household smoking-related fires

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Action on Smoking and Health (ASH UK) performed some incredible statistical gymnastics to claim millions quit smoking during the COVID lockdown, but the truth is probably clearer from fire service statistics. The London Fire Brigade says household smoking-related fire callouts soared by 20% during this period.

Despite ASH UK using unreliable extrapolations to claim millions quit tobacco during the lockdown, Pharmacy2U reported a rise of 61% in mental health medication prescriptions – 92% in 20-29 year-olds. Poor mental health has always been linked smoking. In Greater London, the reported rise was 54%.

The conflicting data was confirmed by the London Fire Brigade, which said: “The number of smoking-related fires in the home has increased by around 20 per cent since the UK lockdown was announced, despite it being reported that one million smokers in the UK have quit during the pandemic.

Smoking remains one of the leading causes of fires in the home, with smoking materials causing over 500 fires during the lockdown period alone. Most notably, was a fire at a flat in Kennington at the end of June which resulted in a first-floor flat being destroyed by fire, smoke and heat and 18 people receiving treatment from London Ambulance Service crews.”

Of those who smoke inside, the fire service stated that 13% of Londoners who continued to smoke reported that they were smoking inside more than before lockdown.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “When you read that one million people have given up smoking in the recent months, you expect the number of smoking fires to mirror that and decrease, but we have actually seen the opposite. Lots of people have been working from home and staying indoors more, which might explain why we have seen a spike in smoking-related fires which start in various rooms in the home as people bring their smoking habits inside.”

With scare stories also working to keep older smokers smoking, or driving them to return to cigarettes having successfully swapped to vaping, the fire service pointed out that this is linked to greater risks: “Older people who live on their own had three times as many fires in their home compared to those under 65, with smoking remaining a leading cause of fatal fires.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Pugsley added: “Because we aren’t seeing smokers over the age of 50 quitting in the same numbers as younger generations, we aren’t going to see a change in the number of smoking-related fires for many more years to come. This is particularly worrying because it is these age groups who are the most vulnerable to fires starting in the home.

“We urge people to take the opportunity and quit smoking now. If you can’t quit, it’s always safer to go outside to smoke, but make sure cigarettes are put right out and disposed of properly.

“Never smoke in bed and avoid smoking on armchairs and sofas – especially if you think you might fall asleep or if you have been drinking alcohol. It’s really important that you dispose of smoking materials safely and never throw cigarettes from balconies or windows.”

The London Fire Brigade has repeated its encouragement to get smokers to switch to vaping as this decreases the risk of tobacco-related disease and reduces the chance of home fires significantly.


  • The London Fire Brigade – [link]
  • Pharmacy2U – [link]
  • Ecig use cuts house fire fatalities, 2014, POTV – [link]
  • London Fire Brigade Safety Warning, 2018, POTV – [link]
  • London Fire Brigade Still Supports Vaping, 2018, POTV – [link]

Photo Credit:

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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