In Depth

Six of the best ways to quit smoking in 2020

One million UK smokers have quit since the pandemic began, surveys suggest

One million smokers in the UK have quit smoking since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in March, figures suggest.

Research by charity Action on Smoking Health (Ash) and University College London showed that around 17% of smokers aged between 16 and 29 have kicked the habit, compared with 7% of over-50s. 

A survey of more than 10,000 people from mid-April to late June was used to estimate the figure, Sky News reports. The UK’s 7.4m smokers have been encouraged to stop smoking during the pandemic, as the government’s advice says they may be at risk of more severe symptoms of Covid-19.

The London Evening Standard adds that a regional breakdown found smokers in the North East of England were most likely to have stopped smoking, while Wales and the East Midlands saw the smallest number of quitters.

Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said that while more than a million smokers have quit, the figure was “still nearly five times as many who have carried on smoking”.

The numbers were released to mark Ash’s new campaign with the Department of Health and Social Care to encourage more smokers to quit the habit. So if you are planning your own effort to stub out your last cigarette, here are some tips on how to get started.

Switch to e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, or vapes, have grown in popularity hugely in the past few years. According to the British Medical Journal, around two million smokers in the UK can now been seen chugging on a vape.

Vapes contain a small amount of the nicotine quitters crave, but the addictive substance is released by heating the liquid within the e-cigarette rather than burning tobacco, meaning users avoid the deadly toxins found in tobacco smoke.

Although e-cigarettes are a relatively recent phenomenon and questions remain about their impact on users’ health, the BMJ reports that there is a “growing consensus” among scientists that switching to vapes could prevent “a substantial proportion” of smoking deaths.

The jury is still out on exactly how effective vaping is for smoking cessations, but a 2015 NHS study found that “two out of three people who used e-cigarettes in combination with the NHS stop smoking service quit smoking successfully”. 

Try a traditional nicotine replacement

A common quitting method that's recommended by the NHS, nicotine replacements offer a variety of ways to ingest nicotine without smoking tobacco. Studies show that nicotine replacements increase the chance of quitting permanently by about 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

Tablets, patches, gum, lozenges, inhalators and nasal sprays are available on prescription through the NHS. “That's up to a third cheaper than buying your patches or gum from the pharmacy and is a lot cheaper than continuing to smoke,” says the health service. 

Read a self-help book

The self-help book is often touted by those who have have stopped smoking as a catalyst to their success stories.

Few are as roundly revered as Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Millions of copies of his book have been sold and his perspective on smoking is thought to have helped some 30 million people make serious changes in their life.

Another book smokers should read is You Can Stop Smoking by Jacquelyn Rogers, originally published in 1977 but every bit as effective today. Rogers tells readers to keep smoking for the first four weeks of the six-week course in order to prepare for giving up, while also offering assignments and tasks to help smokers cut down each week.

Find a new way to keep busy

One top tip from doctors and self-help books is to focus on keeping busy and distracting yourself in order to lessen cravings. Going to the gym or for a run will keep urges down and release endorphins that reduce the stress associated with quitting.

Even something as simple as occupying your hands and mouth, be it by learning to knit or “drinking from a straw to keep your mouth busy”, as the NHS suggests, can help keep your mind off cigarettes.

Ask for support

For many people, giving up smoking is an uphill struggle that takes a lot of effort and frustration, but the support of others is a great source of inspiration and encouragement. As such, speaking to friends and family and asking for their advice, or simply confiding in them, can work wonders for your determination to quit.

If family and friends fail to help, the NHS has a Smokefree Helpline, where those trying to give up can get in touch with a professional adviser who will give advice and support.

Go cold turkey

This option is only for the strong-willed, but it certainly works for some. Going it alone can be a challenge, and the Quit Smoking Community explicitly advises against it, saying “smokers going cold turkey are more likely to cheat or relapse on their quit smoking plan than those who use nicotine replacement therapy”.

The NHS offers a self-service quit plan. Users are asked to choose a quitting date and provide details on their habit. Using this information, the website explains what symptoms to expect along the way, as well as how much money smokers can save, and the health benefits they will enjoy.

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