High levels of nicotine dependence and heavier patterns of smoking in people with severe mental ill health reported during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an increase in ‘quit smoking’ initiatives in the wider population. A study from our Mental Health theme has been published which reports on heavier smoking and high levels of nicotine dependence among people with severe mental ill health (SMI) during the pandemic.

A study from Yorkshire and Humber ARC’s Mental Health theme has been published in BJPsych Open and reports on heavier smoking and high levels of nicotine dependence among people with severe mental ill health (SMI) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors explain that smoking is an important modifiable risk factor for people with SMI, a group which experiences huge health inequalities and a mortality gap of between 15 and 20 years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and national health campaigning (e.g. the ‘QuitForCOVID’ campaign) prompted an increase in quit smoking attempts in the wider population. The researchers were interested to find out whether this was also the case for people with SMI, of whom around 40% smoke. 

The researchers used the Closing the Gap (CtG) cohort of over 10,000 people with SMI, as part of the Optimising Wellbeing during Self-isolation (OWLS) study. Over 300 members of this cohort were asked about their health behaviours and habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, including questions about smoking. Their answers were compared to previously reported smoking behaviours and patterns prior to the pandemic.  

In the published article, the authors conclude that “important differences between the wider population and people with SMI remain, and smoking-related inequalities have potentially increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore important that effective quitting services are provided for, and responsive to, the needs of people who use mental health services”.

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