Halton Borough Council is backing the national #QuitforCovid campaign which is calling on smokers to give up.

The initiative (from Breathe 2025, Fresh and ASH) aims to educate smokers on the increased risks to themselves and their family from COVID-19 and encourage them to take the important step of quitting smoking.

The Chief Medical Officer and Health Secretary both recently reinforced that smokers are at increased risk from COVID-19. Smoking harms the immune system, reducing the body’s natural protection against infections, like coronavirus. Smokers are therefore not only at greater risk of getting the virus, but the infection is likely to last longer and be more serious than it would for someone who does not smoke.

In Halton, we have seen smoking prevalence fall in the past 12 months from 17.9% of the population to 14.9%, which is a staggering fall but still slightly above the national average of 13.9% and the North West’s average of 14.5%.

Halton’s quit rate is 61% (the number of quitters who succeed in their attempt) which is above the average for both the North West (47%) and England (52%).

The Halton Stop Smoking Team, run by the Council’s Health Improvement Team, have been helping smokers to quit for almost 20 years and the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have not stopped them from providing advice, behavioural support and stop smoking products to smokers trying to quit.

In normal times, the team runs face to face one to one and drop in sessions around Runcorn and Widnes where anyone can pop in for advice,  information and support. When lockdown began, the team changed to a phone and email service.

Combining stop smoking aids with expert support from local stop smoking services makes someone three times as likely to stop smoking successfully.

With smokers at greater risk of COVID-19, the team in Halton has seen a steady stream of people contacting the service since the start of lockdown in March.

Clients like Denise, who says: “I cannot fault the support I received. The weekly chats with Pam helped throughout lockdown – I struggled with the products but she helped me to choose, despite not being able to meet face to face.”

And Gill: “If you smoke and you catch it (COVID-19) there’s more chance of being really ill because it’s a respiratory illness.

“I struggled at the beginning of lockdown because I live on my own. I had to work from home and self-isolate. It was a whole new experience and the fear of the unknown. I ended up smoking a couple of cigarettes early in my quit at the start of lockdown but I didn’t enjoy them, I just needed something to do.

“Anna phones me every week to give me support. Because of the circumstances, she is another person I can talk to. And now I’m Smokefree! Even if you have a lapse, the team are there to support and help to get you back on track.”

Cllr Marie Wright, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, says: “Now more than ever, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Our team are still here to give you advice and support by phone and I urge anyone who is thinking of quitting to give them a call today.

“We are making great strides in reducing smoking in Halton. As well as our Stop Smoking Service clinics for the general public, we are working direct with many local employers to offer in-house support and training and we are working with local midwives and NHS teams to encourage pregnant smokers to give up.”

If you want to quit smoking and live in Halton, call the Halton Stop Smoking Service call 0300 029 0029 or email HIT@halton.gov.uk

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