Monday 31 May 2021 is World No Tobacco Day and at the Priory Group we raise awareness of the importance of quitting smoking for your health.

With COVID-19 causing more people to experience higher levels of insecurity and stress, there is the potential for smokers to start getting more cigarettes and ex-smokers to return. At this time, the Royal College of Psychiatrists advised that “as COVID-19 attacks the lungs, patients who smoke should be encouraged to stop smoking as a priority at this time”.

At Priory Group we have worked with experts from Center for Health Research and Education (CHRE) to upgrade and empower our staff to provide support to patients to successfully quit smoking.

Smoke in 2021 and aim for the future

Figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (US) shows that about 14% of adults in England (over six million people) smoke cigarettes regularly, while Government figures shows that the rate of smoking in people with a long-term mental health condition is at 26.8%. It rises to 40% in those with a severe mental illness.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the UK. It is also known to be the largest contributor to a shortened life span averaging 17 years in people with severe mental illness.

In 2019, the government set out its ambition for England to be smoke-free by 2030 Green paper, which set out how it would improve the country’s health and address preventable ill health in the future.

The impact of COVID-19 on former smokers and smokers

In a article published at the British Journal of General Practice Open, Dr Pooja Patwardhan, general practitioner and clinical director of CHRE, said the social distancing, economic insecurity and stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic put millions of current smokers at risk of smoking more cigarettes and smokers who are at risk of returning.

Dr Rick Driscoll, visiting consultant at Priory Hospital Bristol and expert adviser to the CHRE, says these are known triggers for a smoking relapse and are often barriers to people wanting to quit smoking. He said: “Stress is now a scientifically accepted trigger to tune in to one’s current or past smoking habits, which reduces the success of smoking cessation schemes. In times of global epidemics such as COVID-19, economic uncertainty and the inability to be surrounded by all your loved ones can cause stress levels to reach a breaking point. ”

He adds: “Individuals are more likely to succumb to their short-term relief from that one cigarette, rather than hold out for long-term benefits associated with quitting.”

Smoking cessation support

The CHRE has been working with Priory Group since 2019 to support all willing smoking patients in their journey to quit. During these unprecedented and challenging times, Priory staff members were provided with infographics as a tool to support patients during their busy work schedules. CHRE also started a telephone advice line for all Priory staff members 7 days a week to discuss issues surrounding the smoking cessation policy.

Ahead World No Tobacco Day on May 31, CHRE has also created an e-learning course, based on UK national guidelines, for mental health practitioners. Training on national guidelines, etiquette and safety of e-cigarettes is also provided to all the Priory websites involved in Priory’s pilot project for e-cigarette vending machines.

For clinicians seeking information on supporting their patients to quit smoking, Dr Patwardhan and Dr Driscoll’s article in the eCancer journal has practice-friendly infographics for you to use.

Within the community, there is both national and local support available for people who want to quit smoking, including the NHS non-smoking website, which can provide advice, guidance and access to safer nicotine products such as nicotine gum or e-cigarettes if appropriate.