The findings have led NHS doctors from some of the most affected areas across the North to join together and make a powerful plea for people to stop smoking in a major new campaign launching this week online, on-air and on TV across Greater Manchester.
One of the medics supporting the campaign is Dr Matt Evison, a lung specialist at Wythenshawe Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
He explains: “Smoking damages every organ in the body. It causes heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer, and lung disease. And for smokers who get coronavirus, the symptoms may be more severe because of the damage tobacco smoke causes the lungs and immune system.”
Dr Ruth Sharrock, the respiratory consultant who features in the main TV advert for the campaign, said: “In my role, I particularly work with patients with COPD and lung cancer, so I see the terrible harms of smoking on a daily basis. It is devastating to watch patients and their families having to deal with such difficult diagnoses. Added to this, in the last few months we have seen the awful effects of COVID-19 across our hospitals and communities. Together this is a particularly deadly combination.”
“It is never too late to see the benefits that come from quitting smoking. I see some incredible success stories from patients who have been able to stop, despite considerable health issues already – they get a new lease of life and all wish they had done it sooner. You should never give up on yourself.”
Jane Pilkington, director of population health at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Record numbers of people are stopping smoking here in Greater Manchester. But for those who continue to smoke, the impacts can be serious – and potentially fatal.
“It is always the case that, if you are a smoker, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. As we live with the increased risks presented by coronavirus, there has never been a better time to try to stop.
“But beating an addiction isn’t easy. That’s why we’re so committed to supporting all of our residents who smoke to make attempts to quit. Our local stop smoking services, GPs, pharmacies and new free-to-use app are all here to help.
“So don’t wait – try to quit today. The benefits can be immediate. You and those close to you could enjoy them for years”.
According to analysis by King’s College London and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) of YouGov’s COVID-19 tracker, at least 300,000 people in the UK have quit smoking successfully, a further 550,000 have tried to quit and 2.4 million have cut down on the number of cigarettes they smoke as a result of concerns about coronavirus.
One person who has stopped smoking during this time is 27-year-old Connor Woods from Bury: “At the beginning of lockdown, I was smoking more than usual. I started going on long walks to take my mind off things and one day I got to the top of a hill and I just felt awful, my chest was so tight and it was hard to breathe. I decided there and then that I’d had enough.
“I tried going cold turkey at first but then I got a vape and it’s really helped whenever I get the urge to smoke. After smoking for 15 years I’m amazed at how much better I feel since I stopped. I’m no longer having chest pains or feeling out of breath, and with all the reports about smokers with coronavirus being worse off, it’s one less thing to worry about. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without a cig and I’m determined to keep it up.”
Smokers can visit YouCanGM.org to find information and details of stop smoking services and support across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester or call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline free on 0300 123 1044.
Until 31 October 2020, smokers in Greater Manchester can get six months’ free access to the Smoke Free app when they sign up to help keep motivated, monitor health improvements and track money saved.
The Smoke Free app has been scientifically proven to double a smokers’ chances of quitting and has already helped half a million people stop smoking. The app includes daily missions, a quit coach and a feature to live chat an NCST trained stop smoking advisor from 6am to midnight, every day.