Stopping smoking is one of the most effective ways to protect your health from COVID-19, but there is a lack of digital resources available to help smokers quit during the coronavirus crisis. Alan Sutherland, CEO of Kind Consumer Ltd, shares his thoughts here
On average the number of quit attempts for smokers before they succeed in quitting is around 30 (1). Therefore, it is no wonder that one in five (22%) smokers say they have not quit because it is too hard to do so (2). Quitting smoking may seem impossible and it is why so many reach-out for support from smoking cessation services – which comes in different forms. However, we are in unprecedented times; NHS services are being squeezed by the effects of COVID-19 and so it could be that smokers who want to quit are left without the tools they rely on.
There is mixed messaging surrounding the impact of smoking currently, but one message rings clear from healthcare experts, that “stopping smoking remains the single most effective thing people can do to improve their and their family’s health both now and in the future” (3). Despite this message, smoking cessation services have been hit hard by budget cuts, this is shown by an ASH survey which found that funding cuts across England meant almost a third of local authorities no longer provide specialist stop smoking services (4). In addition, official data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government saw local authority spending on stop smoking services declined by 36% between 2014/15 and 2018/19 (4).
Solutions start with collaboration
The funding and delivery of smoking cessation programmes fall on local authorities who provide an array of other programmes to support vulnerable people in their community. This often leaves them overstretched and means many people who need help, fall through the net. In fact, a TUC and NEF report revealed that local governments will face a £25 billion funding gap by 2025 as the demand for local government services increases (5).
The funding gap for local services is especially important when we consider that a person’s likelihood of smoking increases in line with the level of deprivation in their area. For instance, the ONS estimated that people living in the most deprived areas of England were more than four times more likely to smoke than those living in the least deprived areas (6). Hand in hand with this, is that associated diseases such as lung cancer and respiratory diseases are more widespread too. The result is that local authorities in the most deprived areas are being pulled in every direction to deliver critical services, without the funds to match.
Paired with the backdrop of COVID-19, local authorities are facing one of their biggest challenges yet and many are struggling to cope.
As the level of deprivation worsens the effect of the funding gap, it is essential that local authorities consider the unique needs of each community. Whilst one borough could be struggling with a high level of smoking-related diseases, it is likely that this problem is muted in another borough. Local authorities could look for a way to work together and share resources to target the issues most prevalent in their area.
Much of the world is virtual and in ‘the cloud’
Embracing cloud technologies is something every business should be implementing – we have all seen the importance of this with working remotely.
Too often local authorities are using dated technology built on in house servers and public sector employees cannot easily take advantage of cloud-based options that bring excellent features and scalability. Taking into consideration your local authority’s specific requirements will be critical to developing a plan that unlocks the benefits of the cloud without compromising security, daily administrative activities, existing legacy systems or wasting budget.
With this comes the new norm of virtual meetings and whilst unlikely to replace the real thing completely, it has become our only option in order to keep the world turning.
In healthcare specifically, virtual appointments hold their own unique value and are something we should permanently adopt after COVID-19 where face-to-face appointments are not possible. This allows people to continue to receive critical support, including smokers. For many smokers, virtual support could be the crutch that keeps them going and whilst it is not the only element it is something that can be implemented even through a global pandemic.
Simplifying what is incredibly complex
COVID-19 has left a path of destruction in every aspect of our lives and it is no doubt that overcoming the chaos will be incredibly complex. However, the simple act of joining forces across public and private sectors will have a positive impact on smoking cessation services that so many rely on yet are being put on pause. The only way to do this is through knowledge sharing and innovation, which are two key areas that Kind Consumer are experts in and will be key to tackling one of the largest health crises of our time.
Pairing this with collaboration between local authorities and fully embracing technology, including virtual one-to-one consultations and group support sessions, local authorities can continue to provide the support that so many rely on.
- 1: BMJ Open Journal – Study estimating the number of quit attempts – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4908897/
- 2: A Censuswide survey, Question 3, commissioned by Kind Consumer Ltd, of 2,000 UK respondents where an estimated 500 either are currently smokers or smoked previously but do not anymore.
- 3: ASH – Dr Charlie Kenward – https://ash.org.uk/media-and-news/press-releases-media-and-news/health-secretary-it-is-abundantly-clear-that-smoking-makes-the-impact-of-a-coronavirus-worse/
- 4: Pulse – http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/clinical/clinical-specialties/smoking-cessation/third-of-local-councils-axing-stop-smoking-services-amid-funding-cuts-warn-charities/20039980.article
- 5: TUC and NEF report – https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/local-government-will-face-ps25bn-funding-gap-2025-tuc-and-nef-report
- 6: ONS – https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/drugusealcoholandsmoking/articles/likelihoodofsmokingfourtimeshigherinenglandsmostdeprivedareasthanleastdeprived/2018-03-14