World No Tobacco Day – stopping smoking during the coronavirus outbreak
Monday 31st May 2021 is World No Tobacco Day and at the Priory Group, we are raising awareness of the importance of quitting smoking for your health.
With COVID-19 causing more people to experience higher levels of uncertainty and stress, there is the potential for smokers to start having more cigarettes and ex-smokers to relapse. At this time, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has advised that “as COVID-19 attacks the lungs, patients who smoke should be encouraged to give up smoking as a priority at this time”.
At Priory Group, we have been working with experts from Centre for Health Research and Education (CHRE) to upskill and empower our staff to provide support to patients for quitting smoking successfully.
Smoking in 2021 and aims for the future
Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around 14% of adults in England (more than six million people) smoke cigarettes regularly, while Government figures show that the rate of smoking in people with a long term mental health condition is at 26.8%. This rises to 40% in those with a serious mental illness.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the UK. It is also known to be the biggest contributor for a decreased life span by an average of 17 years in people with severe mental illness.
In 2019, the Government set out its ambition for England to be smoke free by 2030 in its Green Paper, which outlined how it will improve the nation’s health and tackle preventable ill health in the future.
The impact of COVID-19 on ex-smokers and smokers
In an article published in the British Journal of General Practice Open, Dr Pooja Patwardhan, GP and Clinical Director of CHRE, said that the social distancing, economic uncertainty and stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic is leaving millions of current smokers at risk of smoking more cigarettes and ex-smokers at risk of relapsing.
Dr Rick Driscoll, Visiting Consultant at Priory Hospital Bristol and Expert Adviser to the CHRE, says these are well-known triggers for a smoking relapse and are often barriers for people wanting to quit smoking. He said: “Stress is now a scientifically accepted trigger for caving in to one’s current or former smoking habits, reducing the success of smoking cessation schemes. In times of global epidemics such as COVID-19, economic uncertainty and the inability to be surrounded by all of your loved ones can cause stress levels to reach breaking point.”
He adds: “Individuals are more likely to succumb to their short-term relief from that one cigarette, rather than holding out for long term benefits that come with quitting.”
Support for stopping smoking
The CHRE has been working with Priory Group since 2019 to support all willing smoker patients in their quitting journey. During these unprecedented and challenging times, Priory staff members have been provided with infographics as an aide memoire, to support patients during their busy work schedule. CHRE has also started 7 days a week telephone advice line for all Priory staff members to discuss issues around the smoke-free policy.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31st May, CHRE has also created an e-learning course, based on UK national guidelines, for mental health practitioners. Training on national guidelines, etiquette and safety of e-cigarettes is also being provided to all the Priory sites involved in Priory’s e-cigarettes vending machine pilot initiative.
For clinicians looking for information on supporting their patients to quit smoking, Dr Patwardhan and Dr Driscoll’s article in the eCancer journal has practice-friendly infographics for you to use.
Within the community, there is both national and local support available for people looking to quit smoking, including the NHS smokefree website, which can provide advice, guidance, and access to safer nicotine products like nicotine gums or e-cigarettes if appropriate.