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Covid stress leads to increase in smoking numbers – UK survey

Jonathan Brady

By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Affairs Correspondent

This was originally sent under embargo
The stress of Covid-19 has fuelled Britain’s nicotine habit, with more than half of smokers “stress-smoking” more, and 10% lighting up again after quitting, a survey suggests.

Young people in particular are taking refuge in the habit, with 39% of smokers aged 18-34 saying they are now smoking more regularly, analysts Mintel reported.

Meanwhile, a further 10% of all smokers have started smoking again after quitting. Overall, 30% of smokers are smoking more regularly since the start of the pandemic.

More than four in 10 e-cigarette users (42%) are vaping more regularly too.

While smoking is increasing, two thirds of Britain’s smokers (65%) say they are worried that the virus is more dangerous to them as a smoker.

A further seven in 10 (69%) say that their respiratory health is more important to them now than before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Roshida Khanom, category director of Mintel Beauty and Personal Care, said: “The pandemic has elevated stress levels, and amongst smokers this has seen an increase in smoking frequency.

“There has been a peak amongst young smokers where increased unemployment and job uncertainty is likely to have driven rates. These added stressors may be the reason for the disconnect between smokers’ health concerns and their habits: despite seven in 10 (69%) considering their respiratory health more important to them, smoking rates are up.

“Smoking is seen as a small vice, especially during these times when there is little else to distract people. While the easing of lockdown restrictions will tackle loneliness and boredom, two factors that have boosted smoking rates, it will take more to reverse the habits developed during the prolonged periods of lockdown.”

E-cigarette sales continue to grow, increasing by an estimated 7% in 2020 to reach £214 million, Mintel said.

While the e-cigarettes market goes from strength to strength, sales of products designed to help smokers quit such as nicotine replacement therapies declined in value by 3% last year to an estimated £144.1 million.

Ms Khanom said: “While chemists and grocers remained open during the 2020 lockdowns, access to expert help and advice has been limited, with pharmacists facing increasing pressure and, in some cases, reduced capacity.

“Vaping, on the other hand, continues to be an appealing way to quit/cut down, with vaping rates up since the start of Covid-19.”

Mintel surveyed 1,935 adults aged over 18 in October.

Action on Smoking and Health director of policy Hazel Cheeseman said: “A million smokers were galvanised to quit during the first lockdown, but as this research shows, some will have relapsed and those who didn’t stop may now be smoking more.

“Every smoker should know help is out there to stop and, that although quitting can be stressful to start with, after only a few weeks ex-smokers experience improved wellbeing as much or greater than if they were taking anti-depressants.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “Stress has always been a major reason why some people smoke. At difficult times smoking and vaping can be a comfort so it would be no surprise if nicotine use has increased as a result of Covid.”

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