Smokers in Greater Manchester are urged to quit to protect themselves against respiratory illness as rising COVID-19 infection rates threaten to overwhelm the NHS.
The Don’t Wait campaign, launched by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, is and backed by experts, NHS staff and former smokers.
It will run until mid-January on TV, radio and social media, and will provide support and resources to help smokers quit.
Dr Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory consultant who features in the main TV advert for the campaign, said: “In my role, I particularly work with patients with COPD and lung cancer, so I see the terrible harms of smoking on a daily basis.
“It is devastating to watch patients and their families having to deal with such difficult diagnoses.
“Added to this, in the last few months we have seen the awful effects of COVID-19 across our hospitals and communities.
“Together this is a particularly deadly combination.”
Greater Manchester’s smoking rates have dropped rapidly in recent years compared to the national average – but smoking still kills 5,200 people in the region every year.
Almost 28,000 adults aged over 35 were admitted to hospital for smoking-related diseases in 2018-2019.
COVID-19 has brought fresh urgency to the tobacco epidemic, as smoking damages the lungs and the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections.
Increasing evidence suggests smokers are at increased risk of contracting the virus, and of developing severe COVID-19 and requiring hospitalisation.
A study published this week in the British Medical Journal, Thorax analysed the self-reported symptoms of over 2.4 million people who used the population symptom app Zoe between 24 March 2020 and 23 April 2020.
The study collected data indicating that smokers were more likely to develop the three main symptoms suggesting a diagnosis of COVID-19 (fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath) and to meet a higher threshold of symptom burden, than non-smokers.
The authors concluded that the study data supports the growing scientific consensus that smoking increases individual risk from COVID-19, and that support to help people quit smoking should form part of efforts to deal with the pandemic.
Dr Sharrock said: “For smokers – the single most important thing you can do to improve your health is to stop smoking.
“I would urge anyone who wants to quit smoking to contact their local stop smoking services to maximise their chances of success, and for smoker’s families to really help motivate and support them.”
Lisa Fildes, a mother of four sons from Hindley, Wigan, backed the Don’t Wait campaign after she was finally able to quit with help from her NHS Stop Smoking service.
Lisa, 49, began smoking at the age of 10 and was smoking 20 cigarettes a day in 2018 when she suffered a heart attack, stroke, multi-organ failure and sepsis, leaving her in a coma for over four weeks.
After recovering, Lisa still struggled to quit for good, and found that she smoked more during the pandemic to cope with the stressful situation.
When she developed a bad chest infection that would not go away, however, she decided that enough was enough.
She said: “I contacted my Stop Smoking Service and my advisor helped me to make a plan, and we discussed different ways to quit.
“My advisor was fab, she would ring me every week to make sure I was okay and was there any time I needed advice or just to let off some steam.
“Looking at my kids and remembering just how poorly I was, keeps me motivated.
“I don’t want to end up back in hospital. I want to be around for my boys and my husband.
“My message to anyone who smokes is please don’t wait – give quitting a go now. If I can do it, then anyone can do it.
“Don’t waste all that time getting ill, wasting your money, taking a possible life away from your children or your family.
“It’s just not worth it.”
For support to quit in Greater Manchester, visit YouCanGM.org