33,000 Welsh smokers quit the habit since start of Covid-19 pandemic
Covid-19 has led to the biggest surge in smokers quitting in Wales since the 2007 smoking ban – with 33,000 Welsh smokers having given up since the pandemic hit.
According to analysis by ASH and University College London an estimated one million smokers in the UK have quit since the start of the outbreak, including 33,000 Welsh smokers.
Fears over the impact of the virus have been a major driver for those quitting, with 41% surveyed in the UK citing Covid-19 as their main reason for giving up.
Smokers are more at risk from Covid-19 because they have weakened lung defences as a result of smoking, which damages the cells protecting their nose, upper and lower airways. Many have existing lung and heart conditions caused by smoking that increase their risk from the virus.
ASH Wales joined other leading charities in welcoming the news and said the huge increase in smokers wanting to quit the habit meant it was more important than ever for Welsh Government to invest in stop smoking services and awareness campaigns to tackle smoking prevalence. The latest figures from the National Survey for Wales had revealed that before the start of the pandemic, smoking prevalence in Wales rose to 18%, from 17% the previous year.
Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales, said: “What we’ve seen during the pandemic is a year’s worth of quitting figures in just four months.
“We know that smokers are at significantly higher risk from the Covid-19 virus, and we welcome the news that so many are quitting as a result.
“This presents an opportunity to tackle the stubbornly high smoking prevalence in Wales and it is crucially important that those smokers that do want to give up can access the smoking cessation support they need both to quit and to remain smoke-free.
“There is also a strong need to reach those smokers in deprived areas where smoking prevalence is highest, and health inequalities are greatest, with targeted community-based cessation support.
“We are calling for more funding for stop smoking services and awareness campaigns and to introduce tougher tobacco control policies and more smoke-free spaces that will de-normalise smoking and encourage more smokers to quit the habit. “
Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Wales, also welcomed the figures and called for a new strategy to tackle smoking prevalence in Wales:
“Smoking is still the biggest preventative cause of lung diseases such as COPD and lung cancer, so unless we tackle smoking, lives will continue to be affected by these conditions.
The news that 33,000 smokers in Wales have quit during the pandemic is deeply encouraging but to continue this progress, we need a new smoking and tobacco strategy with a target for a smoke-free nation by 2030.”
Last year ASH Wales joined forces with other leading charities to call on Welsh Government to set an endgame target to eradicate smoking in Wales. Currently there is a target to reduce smoking to 5% of the population in England by 2030 and to make Scotland smoke-free by 2034.
According to the latest ASH Wales YouGov survey, 68% of adults in Wales would support the setting of an endgame target to reduce smoking in Wales.
Andy Glyde, Public Affairs Manager for Cancer Research UK in Wales said:
“Smoking accounts for 3,000 cases of cancer each year in Wales and remains the most preventable cause of the disease. We have been calling for the Welsh Government to adopt a new target for a smoke-free Wales, where smoking rates drop to just 5% by 2030.
“To achieve this we need to see progress speed up, which will include more resources for smoking cessation services like Help Me Quit so it can support more smokers across Wales.”
Adam Fletcher Head of British Heart Foundation Cymru said: “Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and to protect the health of your heart. We want to see a clear commitment in Wales for a smoke-free target date of 2030 or earlier to ensure investment and action is taken to reduce smoking prevalence below 5%.
“Further investment in smoking cessation services and tobacco control policies is likely to be highly cost-effective for improving people’s health in Wales and reducing the burden of preventable disease on the NHS.”