In only five months, 2020 appears to have seen more people quit smoking than any other year since 2007, according to a survey run in the United Kingdom in June. A separate survey, this one performed by the University College London, showed that 41% of recent quitters attributed fears about COVID-19 were their motivation.
In the UCL study, 7.6% of the smokers they surveyed quit between their first survey, in December 2019, and their second in June 2020. Expanded out from their sample size, that represents between 400,000 and 1 million smokers in the United Kingdom.
Smoking, it has long been well known, causes permanent damage to the lungs and airways, increasing the likelihood of respiratory ailments, and reduces one’s ability to fight any kind of infection. It also makes one prone to blood clotting, a known but poorly understood complication of COVID-19 that does as much damage as the respiratory symptoms.
Data from symptom tracker apps has suggested that smokers are 14 percent more likely than non-smokers to develop the ‘classic’ symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, lasting cough, and difficulty breathing – and twice as likely to be hospitalized. Research in the United States has indicated that smokers with COVID-19 are nearly twice as likely to die. Strong motivations indeed for those who needed that little extra bit of motivation to quit.
Oddly enough, there may be a tiny correlation between smoking and a reduced likelihood of catching the disease in the first place, but the matter has not yet been well-studied and may be anecdotal. And the poorer odds of survival are a much stronger association.
“Over a million smokers may have succeeded in stopping smoking since Covid-19 hit Britain, but millions more have carried on smoking,” said Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), the NHS’s anti-smoking initiative.