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Lockdown Caused More Smokers

Vape shops were ordered to shut, access to quit advice made more difficult, it is not surprising that the short-sighted approach has led to a reported rise in the number of smokers

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A new report speaks about the terrible impact vape shop closures and increased difficulty in accessing smoking cessation services have had during lockdown. It estimates that over half a million more people are now smoking – despite Action on Smoking and Health previously claiming “record numbers” had quit.

It is reported that the largest rise was in the 18 to 24 age group as around 600,000 adults started smoking again, bucking a 40-year declining trend. Factors influencing this are said to be unemployment stress and poor mental health experienced as a result of the lockdowns.

Richard Sloggett used to be one of Matt Hancock MP’s advisors. He said the findings mean the government will have to take "drastic and immediate action" in a report produced by Future Health (1).

Sloggett said: “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 recommends:

  • 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.

The challenge the government faces is encapsulated in Corby, Northamptonshire, where the smoking rate is England’s highest.

The report states: “For Corby, the area with the highest smoking rate in the country to reach Smokefree status, would require an 82% reduction in smoking rates in the next nine years. This would mean over 4 adults in every 5 currently smoking in Corby would need to quit in this period (combined with no additional smokers).”

When Corby topped the charts at the end of last year, Richard Holley, area manager of the local stop smoking service said: “The smoking rate in Corby is certainly concerning, but there are a host of reasons which may explain why prevalence remains high. Approximately one in four routine and manual workers smoke nationally, but in Corby this figure is closer to one in three.

The Northamptonshire Stop Smoking Service offers free support to smokers wanting to make a quit attempt, and the service now offers free vape starter kits. Corby residents wanting help to quit can contact the smoking cessation service by email ([email protected]) or by calling 0300 126 5700.


  1. Make Smoking History: Getting back on track to eliminate smoking after the pandemic -
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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