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More Brits than ever are choosing to ditch cigarettes, with a charity suggesting that over one million people in the UK have given up smoking since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.

According to Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), which conducted a survey of 10,000 Brits, of those who had quit in the last four months, 41 per cent said it was in direct response to the pandemic.

A separate study from University College London found that more people quit smoking in the first half of 2020 than in any year since it began its survey in 2007 – suggesting smokers are quitting at the highest number in a decade.

Ash director Deborah Arnott said in a statement: “Over a million smokers have succeeded in stopping smoking since Covid-19 hit Britain, but that still leaves nearly five times as many who have carried on smoking.” There are around seven million smokers in the UK.

Coronavirus has played a big part in the reduction of smoker numbers and government advice says smokers could be more at risk of severe coronavirus symptoms.

Further data from the Zoe Covid Symptom Tracker app, created by researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals and King’s College London, looked at data from 2.4 million Brits and determined that smokers who tested positive for coronavirus were two times more likely to be hospitalised than non-smokers.

The research also found that smokers were 14 per cent more likely than non-smokers to develop covid symptoms including shortness of breath, a fever and a persistent cough.

In response to its survey, Ash is launching a stop smoking campaign in partnership with the government – but how easy is it to quit?

“Choose a date to stop carefully, when you are ready to make a commitment to quitting and feel able to do it,” Dr Fiona Sim, a former GP and Special Advisor to the Royal Society of Public Health, tells the Standard.

“Tell people around you that you’re quitting and if possible, buddy up with someone and quit together. It’s also a good idea to get professional advice from your local pharmacist or GP. Don’t worry if you don’t succeed at first – it can take several attempts to quit smoking but the health benefits of becoming a non-smoker mean it is worth stopping however long it takes and at any age.”

Sim adds that if you are pregnant, there are special services to help you quit smoking and warns that smoking while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and low birth weight for the baby.

She also recommends rewarding yourself for quitting smoking – using the money you save from becoming a non-smoker to treat yourself to something nice.

If you’ve tried to quit smoking several times, Sim suggests trying out some treatments to help kickstart the process.

“There are several types of treatment available,” Sim continues. “Including nicotine replacement in the form of patches, gum, inhaler, nasal spray, microtablets or lozenges.

“Prescription pills such as Zyban or Champix are also good stop-smoking treatments, and e-cigarettes if other treatments haven’t worked for you. Try visiting a stop smoking clinic or a pharmacy with a trained assistant so they can help you find the right combination of products most likely to help you.”

Hypnosis is another popular option for those looking to quit – but Sim warns there is slim scientific evidence to support it. She adds: “It’s not licensed for NHS use for this purpose, although lots of smokers try it and succeed in quitting.”

E-cigarettes could also be another alternative as the user isn’t inhaling tobacco.

“E-cigarettes are believed by most experts to be a lot safer than smoking tobacco products. Most contain nicotine and so inhaling from an e-cigarette will replace the effect of nicotine in cigarettes, which accounts for their addictiveness,” Sim explains.

“So e-cigarettes can help you quit conventional cigarettes and can be especially useful in the early stages of quitting. However, because the long-term health effects of vaping are not yet known, the prolonged use of e-cigarettes is not recommended and e-cigarettes are not currently recommended for use in pregnancy so it’s usually advised you try other treatments.”

While some quit cold-turkey, Sim says it’s best to do what works for you. “Going cold turkey can work but someone trying to quit may find the cravings too much.

“If you do decide to go cold turkey, nicotine will be out of your body in the first week, after which you may well have cravings for a few weeks, and longer for some people. Each craving lasts for a few minutes and you’ll need to be prepared to cope with them.

“To succeed, you’ll need to always say ‘no’ to these cravings to avoid relapse. The NHS calls this the ‘not a single drag’ rule.”

While social smoking has less effects on your body than smoking regularly, Sim explains that social smokers are at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine. She adds: “Altogether, a better idea is to not smoke at all rather than believing wrongly, that you are safe if you are a ‘social smoker.’”

When you do decide to stop smoking, your body will start to crave nicotine, which is why Sim recommends nicotine replacement products.

She adds: “It won’t be long before the good effects start to kick in, though. You’ll enjoy food more because your sense of taste will be improved, your clothes won’t smell of stale smoke, that tell-tale cough will disappear and you’ll be saving yourself money.

“Importantly, your risk of things like heart and circulatory diseases, lung cancer and several other cancers and chronic chest disease (COPD) will start to reduce as soon as you stop smoking.And if some damage has already been done, quitting at any age can help stop things getting worse. Because smoking affects appetite, some people put on weight after quitting, so include a healthy eating and exercise plan within your quit smoking plan.”

As well as the obvious effects of smoking, it can also affect your mental health, sex drive and sleep.

Sim explains: “Smoking increases anxiety and stress, despite its image as something to relieve stress. Smokers are also more likely to suffer from depression. Stopping smoking can therefore improve your mental health and overall wellbeing.

“Smoking can also affect your circulation and with it, the blood supply to a man’s penis. So if a man suffers from erectile dysfunction, it can be as a result of smoking and may be cured by quitting. Smoking is also known to contribute to infertility, so it is worth both partners quitting if you are trying to conceive.”

With a million people quitting smoking during lockdown, there’s never been a better time to join the masses and make this the time you quit, too.

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