COVID pushing more people to ditch smokes, new study suggests

SYDNEY, SEPT 22 – The COVID-19 pandemic has more than doubled the number of smokers wanting to quit but a different approach may be needed to help them succeed, according to a new study from The George Institute for Global Health.

An online survey of just over 1,200 smokers in Australia and the UK found that more than a quarter said they intended to quit in the next two weeks, compared to one in ten seen in previous research.

Lead author Professor Simone Pettigrew from The George Institute for Global Health said it was good to see positive intentions, but the right support was needed to ensure successful follow-through.

“Health authorities around the world are encouraging people to stop smoking because of the risk of complications from COVID-19, but the social isolation imposed by the pandemic is making people more vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine,” she said.

“It’s also changing the way people access health services. This has implications for the kinds of services – such as counselling and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) – that have been the mainstay of smoking cessation support.”

George Institute researchers conducted an online survey in early April involving 604 Australians and 600 people in the UK who smoked at least one cigarette a day or seven per week. As well as being asked about their intention to quit, respondents were questioned about the type of support services they would prefer and how they would like them to be delivered.

The analysis, published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, found that:

  • Two thirds were interested in NRT, increasing to over three quarters if it could be home delivered and provided for free
  • Around half expressed interest in counselling and/or a text support program
  • Of those interested in counselling, there was a strong preference for it to be via email

“Our results suggest that forms of smoking cessation assistance that can be delivered remotely may be more helpful to people who’ve been prompted to quit since the pandemic hit,” added Professor Pettigrew.

Just under half the survey respondents wanted more information about smoking and COVID risk, preferably from the government or doctors. Television and online news were the most preferred information channels.

“Most smokers want to quit, and many have tried unsuccessfully in the past. COVID represents an important opportunity to help them use proven support tools while their motivation to quit is high.”

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