The ongoing uncertainty and anxiety around COVID-19 and the very necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus means that there will not be a confident return to local smoking cessation services any time soon. Even pre-pandemic, local stop smoking services were patchy: a postcode lottery of un-equitable support that saw the uptake of face to face NHS smoking cessation services falling again last year. More than ever, the public are looking towards digitalised solutions for their health goals. Peloton, the company behind the Peloton static bike which enables users to take part in remote cycling group classes has seen stocks climb 200% this year; use of the NHS App increased 111% in March 2020 alone, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock reflected in July 2020 that “we’ve seen the uptake of the use of technology [in healthcare] like never before”. It is evident then that local authorities need to keep up by providing digitalised solutions for the ongoing smoking cessation needs of local populations and bring down smoking prevalence rates.
Stoptober is a Public Health England campaign which encourages smokers to quit for 28 days through the month of October. Making it to this milestone, they will be 5 times more likely to remain smoke-free. The 2019 Stoptober campaign resulted in 25% of smokers reporting a quit attempt, and this was especially seen in under 35s. This year in particular, COVID-19 has the public prioritising their health like never before; some for the first time. Here we have a respiratory virus which causes breathing problems and which we know is exacerbated by a health risk behaviour that has been on the public health agenda for decades: smoking. The public are concerned, and rightly so. Preliminary research is showing that smoking is associated with a doubling of odds of disease progression in people with coronavirus, and with severity of disease and death in those hospitalised with COVID-19. The research isn’t any more promising around e-cigarettes and vaping, either.
However, as any seasoned smoker will tell you, one of the primary reasons for smoking is in itself stress-relief. Given that one in five have been suffering with some kind of depression through coronavirus (about double that of pre-COVID-19 rates), and the known association between depression, anxiety and uptake of smoking behaviour, we know that for many, the habit will have increased. That’s why Stoptober couldn’t be coming at a better time.The public need the facts around smoking cessation, they need support and they are ready to listen, but they might need an extra helping hand, beyond a Stoptober app.
There’s something about a sense of community that has kept us going through the pandemic. We saw the uplifting ‘clap for carers’ every week, local communities came together to organise food deliveries, and we all learned how to connect with loved ones remotely. We learn from watching: behavioural psychology tells us that we see others doing, we are more likely to do (social contagion theory). Weight loss groups and exercise classes are more successful than solo health behavioural changes for this reason. Through the initial lockdown, there was a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. Now approaching the winter months and the increased health risks around the flu and other winter viruses, there is even more focus on health promotion with the public, but a desperate need for the revival of the ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit. We need to do everything we can to promote a tidal wave of group behaviour in the form of smoking cessation; and there will be safety in numbers and a sense of community through the Quit Genius and Stoptober together.
In response to the very real threat of COVID-19, Stoptober will be rebranded alongside the new ‘Better Health’ campaign this year with a focus on holistic health and wellbeing rather than a specific focus on one element of. It will also have two different target audiences with two varying levels of quitting motivation, too: the 35-60 year olds who see quitting as prudent for their overall health and immunity, and the 18-34 year olds who have been hardest hit socioeconomically due to the pandemic, who have actually seen increases in their smoking rates. We also know that although digitalised health solutions have seen a surge in use across all age brackets since COVID-19 began, the younger generation - who are currently less motivated to quit smoking - may be the most receptive to a digitalised solution. After all, we know the younger generation are most likely to Google their symptoms if they become unwell rather than making a GP appointment, and would rather seek mental ill-health support through apps than through face to face counselling, and so it is not a stretch to recognise that this generation will be especially receptive to digitalised smoking cessation support.
Introducing Quit Genius. Quit Genus offers support for tobacco users and vapers. This support includes digital cognitive behavioural therapy, one-to-one coaching, craving support, a remote Carbon Monoxide breath sensor, and Nicotine Replacement Therapy. All of these tools are all bundled up into a personal quit plan with a proven success rates: a track history of supporting 60,000 people quit, and a 52% biochemically verified quit rate at 28 days, more effective than the NHS Very Brief Advice models, many of which we know are currently unable to run. What’s more, we were funding, researching and investing in digital therapeutics as a mission well before the pandemic. Think less reactive, more proactive. And true to proactive health initiatives, investing in Quit Genius will save local authorities, employers and health services costs over time relating to absenteeism, presenteeism and smoking-related illnesses. Greenwich, our latest commissioned pilot, has goals to reduce expenditure of face to face services, with projected savings of £386,000 for the borough.
While 35-60 year olds are already more motivated to quit, implementation of Quit Genius would be a clever way to support not only this cohort while face to face services remain unavailable, but also to directly speak to your local authority’s younger generations to stop smoking this Stoptober. Dialling in to their specific concerns right now by providing ongoing real time cost-savings calculations, an anonymous online community where they can feel that ever important sense of support, Quit Genius is the winning combination to get results and save lives.
An editorial in the BMJ recently reflected that it is “quite conceivable that digital consultations will remain the norm even when this pandemic is over” - this has been Quit Genius’ mission from the start. Speak to us about how we can support your local authority to promote a more robust Stoptober this year, save lives, and supplement face to face service models at a time when the public are more invested than ever in their health and digital support solutions.
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