Smoking among young people aged 18 to 34 rose by quarter in first lockdown, study shows

A shocking 652,000 young adults took up smoking in the first lockdown as people from disadvantaged backgrounds were linked to high-risk drinking

The number of young adults who smoke in England rose by a quarter in the first lockdown – but more people also successfully kicked the habit, new research has suggested.

Hundreds of thousands more smoked compared to before the Covid pandemic hit, the study funded by Cancer Research UK showed.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • There was a 25% increase in 18 to 34-year-olds who smoke, which translated into a rise of more than 652,000 young adults, the charity said
  • There was a 99% rise in people across all groups successfully quitting during lockdown compared with pre-pandemic
  • Researchers, from University College London and the University of Sheffield, said there was an increased prevalence of high-risk drinking among all groups (40%), but the rise was greater among women (55%) and people from less advantaged backgrounds (64%)
  • Cancer Research UK said smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer, known to cause at least 15 different types of the disease
  • Drinking just small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of seven different types of cancer, the charity added

What’s been said

Dr Sarah Jackson, lead author and principal research fellow at UCL, said: “The first lockdown was unprecedented in the way it changed people’s day-to-day lives.

“We found that many smokers took this opportunity to stop smoking, which is fantastic.

“However, the first lockdown was also a period of great stress for many people, and we saw rates of smoking and risky drinking increase among groups hardest hit by the pandemic.

“It will be important to keep a close eye on how these increases in smoking and drinking develop over time to ensure appropriate support is made accessible for anyone who needs it.”

Background

The findings come from a paper published in the journal Addiction.

It said: “In conclusion, the first Covid lockdown in England in March–July 2020 was associated with increased smoking prevalence among younger adults and an increased prevalence of high-risk drinking among all socio-demographic groups.

“Smoking cessation activity also increased: more younger smokers made quit attempts during lockdown and more smokers quit successfully.

“However, socio-economic disparities in patterns of drinking behaviour were evident: high-risk drinking increased by more among women and those from less advantaged social grades, but the rate of alcohol reduction attempts increased only among the more advantaged social grades.”

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