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Public Health Wales urges smokers to quit now

Quitting smoking now could save your life – that’s the message to Wales’ 440,000 smokers from health chiefs as Covid-19 continues to spread.

Public Health Wales is urging smokers to quit the habit as a way of reducing the risks from Covid-19 as emerging evidence shows smokers are more likely to develop more serious lung illnesses compared to non-smokers.

Smokers are more at risk from Covid-19 because they have weakened lung defences as a result of smoking which damages the cells protecting their nose, upper and lower airways. They also have more regular hand-to-mouth contact, giving more chances for picking up the virus. Many also have existing lung conditions caused by smoking.

Those that quit smoking however, will boost their body’s natural defences within days and improve their body’s ability to fight the infection.

According to Public Health Wales, hundreds of smokers have contacted the NHS Help Me Quit helpline since the outbreak began and in response more telephone support advisors have been drafted in so smokers get the help they need.

Meanwhile, ASH Wales’ website has seen a 40% increase in visitors, mostly searching for online advice on how to quit. Social media has also seen a spike in engagement with thousands of people reacting to the #QuitforCovid campaign.

Ashley Gould is Public Health Consultant at Public Health Wales. He said: “Seven in ten smokers in Wales say they would like to quit – there might never be a more important time than NOW to try harder than ever to quit.  Hundreds of smokers right across Wales are getting support right now, mainly over the phone, from NHS Help Me Quit experts, to help them reach their goal.

“We know that Covid-19 is mainly a respiratory disease and research on similar viruses shows tobacco smoke increases the risks of this type of infection, and how serious it can be.  One study of just over 1000 deaths from Covid-19 showed about 13% of current smokers died, needed intensive care or a ventilator compared with just 5% of non-smokers.  It’s never too late to try to quit, and the NHS is ready to help you, today. One call to Help Me Quit on 0800 085 2219, or a visit to www.helpmequit.wales is all you need to get you started.”

Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales, said: “As Covid-19 continues to spread, the message to smokers is clear – quit this deadly addiction now.

“Support for those who do want to give up is just a phone call away, thanks to NHS Wales. Meanwhile ASH Wales will continue to provide quit smoking advice and support online.

“We know that giving up smoking can be incredibly tough but there really is no more important time to quit. The health benefits kick in within minutes of stubbing out that last cigarette and continue to grow with time.

“Smokers should also remember, that quitting will benefit not only them, but their loved ones too, as they will be protected from the harms of second-hand smoke.”

Joseph Carter is Head of Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation Wales. He said: “Everyone knows that smoking has a real negative impact on people’s lung health. Now, due to the spread of Covid-19, the need for people to kick the habit for good is all the more urgent.

“Quitting smoking is not easy, especially during times of stress or worry, but doing so can have such a transformative effect on your life and massively boost your body’s ability to fight respiratory conditions like Covid-19.

“So, my message to all smokers is this, please just give it a go. There is a lot of support available, including the Public Health Wales ‘Help Me Quit’ phone line, and within weeks you’ll begin to see the positive benefits of quitting.”

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine examining disease characteristics among Chinese patients found that smokers are approximately 1.5 times as likely to progress to the severe stage of Covid-19 as those who have never smoked.