Before the pandemic hit, the UK had been doing pretty well at reducing smoking rates.
However, new research published this week has sadly revealed a sharp rise in the number of young adults aged 18-34 who classify themselves as smokers.
The study, which found an increase of almost 25% in smoking uptake during the first lockdown, hasn’t investigated why the rise has happened, but experts have discussed the most probable factors behind it.
Many young people have suffered job losses, with the hospitality sector facing the brunt of Covid. Combine this with the sudden lack of social contact, increased difficulty in getting access to support systems and the closure of universities and colleges, and it’s no surprise that poor mental health and stress amongst this generation is at record levels.
Whilst there’s no scientific evidence to back it up, many believe that smoking relieves stress, so this thought process could in part explain the increase in young smokers. The study also found that, once again, it’s the country’s most deprived areas that have been impacted the most.
The final blow, however, was the closure of vape shops throughout lockdown. Despite the industry fighting for them to be reclassified as “essential retailers”, their calls were ignored, meaning ex-smokers lost access to their usual supply of kits and e-liquids.
As off-licences and supermarkets remained open, it’s easy to see why people inevitably returned to smoking cigarettes, especially those without the means to shop online.
In response to the findings, the UKVIA said, “Sadly, new research highlighting a lockdown smoking surge is no surprise. We warned the government, including devolved administrations, that this was likely when they refused our calls to make vape shops “essential”. By slamming the door on vaping and allowing easy access to cigarettes people clearly chose the easier option.”
With vape stores back open and Stoptober just around the corner, it’s hoped that this rise of smoking amongst young people can start to be reversed with positive campaigning.
Each month, the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group publish a review examining all the most recent studies looking at the use of e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking. Their most recent review was overwhelmingly positive, and found the following key points:
- Nicotine e‐cigarettes probably do help people to stop smoking for at least six months.
- They probably work better than nicotine replacement therapy and nicotine‐free e‐cigs.
- They may work better than no support, or behavioural support alone, and they may not be associated with serious unwanted effects.
- However, we need more, reliable evidence to be confident about the effects of e‐cigarettes, particularly the effects of newer types of e‐cigarettes that have better nicotine delivery.
Whilst these results are encouraging, it’s clear that until vaping and vape devices are reconsidered for medical licensing or at least more widely recommended by governing bodies as a safer alternative, access for those who need it most will continue to be blocked.