Efforts to combat smoking in England have hit a roadblock, with the proportion of tobacco users stagnating at around 15% between April 2020 and August 2022. This marks a significant halt to the previous downward trend, which saw a 5% decrease in tobacco use from 2017 to 2020. The findings, derived from a University College London study involving 102,000 participants and published in BMC Medicine, indicate that pandemic-related stress may have driven individuals aged 18 to 24 to adopt smoking, while causing former smokers to relapse.
The study attributes the slowdown in progress towards a smoke-free England by 2030 to the “stress, upheaval, and social isolation in the pandemic,” particularly impacting the younger demographic. Interestingly, the research also notes that wealthier individuals working from home were less likely to quit smoking during the pandemic, whereas manual workers continued to quit, possibly due to financial constraints.
Dr. Sarah Jackson, a researcher involved in the study, expressed concern, stating, “This study shows we are even further off track than we thought,” highlighting the urgency of addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic on tobacco control initiatives.