A woman wearing a protective face mask smokes a cigarette in Madrid, Spain, on June 7, 2020.
Ely Pineiro/Getty Images

  • More than one million people in the UK have given up smoking since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study by the nonprofit Action on Smoking and Health.
  • Almost half (41%) said it was a direct response to heightened health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The study also found that older people are quitting at slower rates than younger people, despite being categorised in the more vulnerable group.
  • "I don't want to be one of those people in a ward with an oxygen mask over my face struggling to tell my loved ones what I'm feeling," one recent quitter told Business Insider.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.


Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Saurav Dutt smoked up to six cigarettes a day.

The 38-year-old author from London first took up the habit as a way to unwind from college exams. But as the years went by he found that it helped him focus, and it became essential to his writing process.

"Smoking inspires my writing ... and drives me out of dark moods when I hit writer blocks or doubt my efforts," Dutt told Business Insider.

But as COVID-19 gripped the world, Dutt - who had tried quitting in the past, but never managed to do so - decided it was finally time to give up.

So, after 18 years of smoking, he quit.

"I don't want to be one of those people in a ward with an oxygen mask over my face struggling to tell my loved ones what I'm feeling," Dutt said. "COVID-19 has brought the issue of personal health into focus for me like never before."

He is not alone. According to a recent survey by the UK charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), conducted between April 15 to June 20, more than one million people in Britain have given up smoking.

Of those poeple, almost half (41%) said it was a direct response to heightened health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, the study added. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has so far killed more than 700,000 people worldwide.

Their reaction is understandable: COVID-19 is known to attack the respiratory system first, with symptoms including a bad cough and shortness of breath.

Smokers may have higher risk of getting severe coronavirus symptoms

In the last few months, researchers have been trying to find out how strong the link between smokers and severe coronavirus cases really is.

A recent study by The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco found that smokers are nearly twice as likely to develop severe coronavirus symptoms.

The research examined more than 11,000 COVID-19 patients and found that about 30% of those who had a history of smoking saw their conditions progress to a more severe or critical state.

Another study published last month by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that one in three young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are at higher risk of having severe COVID-19 cases, with smoking habits playing a big part.

Patients are considered vulnerable if they have at least one risk factor set out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including health conditions and smoking habits.

More young people are giving up smoking

Younger smokers appear to be giving up smoking at a much higher rate than their older counterparts.

The study by ASH found that of the 1 million people who quit between April and June, 400,000 were aged between 16 and 25.

"For young people who have been quitting, there's a desire to generally be more healthy, and take control at a time in their lives where that control has been taken away," Hazel Cheeseman, the policy dierctor for ASH told Business Insider.

"Younger people are more likely to be in employment that's been disrupted, or have their education or social lives disrupted. Their lives have been much more affected by the experience of lockdown, whereas older people have been in their own homes and maintained their own space."

Cheeseman said that ASH's findings have been "surprising" considering it is older people who are more at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

"Older smokers have been smoking longer because most people start in their teens. They're therefore more likely to be more heavily addicted and therefore quitting is more difficult for them," she said.

"But they are also more insulated from some of the factors that have motivated people to quit right now."

While the survey results showed a sign of short-term success for smokers giving up, it remains to be seen if this translates into a continued pattern.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that the disease poses particular risks to smokers.

At a press briefing in July, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Smoking kills 8 million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive."

That incentive has worked for Dutt. He said that while it hasn't been easy, he knows that it's for the better.

"Quitting has been incredibly difficult but nearing 40, the reality of looking after one's health is more important than ever, and I am no longer willing to allow a drug to rule my life," Dutt said.

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