Smokers in the UK are quitting at a record pace. As of July, ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) reported that over one million people living in the United Kingdom have given up smoking due to COVID-19.
Because the virus attacks the respiratory system, it has given smokers a moment of pause which could very well translate to a permanent stop of the highly addictive habit. In May of 2020, The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco published the results of a study showing that people with a history of smoking are almost twice as likely to develop severe symptoms from COVID-19. In fact, out of 11,000 patients 30% had symptoms that escalated to a more severe or even critical level. On the ASH website their Chief Executive, Deborah Arnott says, "Over a million smokers may have succeeded in stopping smoking since COVID-19 hit Britain, but millions more have carried on smoking. This campaign is designed to encourage those who've not yet succeeded, to wake up and decide today is the day to stop smoking."
Supporting the campaign is respiratory consultant Dr. Ruth Sharrock, who knows all too well about the negative health effects caused by smoking. The sad and frustrating element is that smoking is the leading cause of preventable illnesses including cancer and both heart and lung disease. "Every day of my working life I see the terrible health problems caused by smoking. But I have also been inspired by those already suffering from smoking related diseases, who have still managed quit and get health benefits from this. My message to smokers today is, please, do not wait. Whether you are healthy now or already unwell because of smoking, today is the day to stop. It can transform your life."
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Saurav Dutt, a 38-year-old resident of London, told Business Insider that he started smoking in college to relax after exams. But being a writer, he also found that through the years it helped him snap out of moments when could not find that creative flow. "Smoking inspires my writing ... and drives me out of dark moods when I hit writer blocks or doubt my efforts." After 18 years of being a smoker, Dutt was done rolling the dice on his health and 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," he said. "COVID-19 has brought the issue of personal health into focus for me like never before."
Even though the older generations are at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19, it appears to be the younger demographic that is leading the way. ASH reported in April that of the one million who quit, 400,000 were between the ages of 16 and 25. As Hazel Cheeseman, the policy director for ASH told Business Insider, "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." She continued to say that "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."
Perhaps the coronavirus symptoms are showing younger generations what they have to look forward to if they continue to smoke. As said by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus back in July, "Smoking kills 8 million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive."
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