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Comment on surge in young adult smoking and adult high-risk drinking

Government urged to increase alcohol duty ahead of budget

Government urged to increase alcohol duty ahead of budget

Posted 25/08/21

In response to a study published today (Wednesday 25th August) in the journal Addiction and funded by Cancer Research UK [1] — which found that the number of 18–34-year-olds who smoke increased by 25% in England during the first lockdown and that 4.5 million more adults would be classed as high-risk drinkers during the same period*** which is an increase of 40%, the Fresh Balance Programme has commented:

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “These figures are hugely alarming, and we have a ticking time bomb waiting to go off unless swift action is taken across both tobacco and alcohol. We have made progress in the last two decades to reduce smoking rates in the region, but with 15 local people dying each day from avoidable smoking related illnesses, the last thing we need is a big increase in young adults getting addicted to such a lethal product.

“The Government has previously stated it wants to make smoking obsolete by 2030 and we back this ambition, but we urgently need to see the plan for how they propose to achieve this. A new Tobacco Control Plan for England needs to be comprehensive and properly funded, and we know here in the region, support is high for the government to take further action. It’s wrong that tobacco companies can continue to make huge profits from addicting young people and then sadly prematurely killing at least half of long term smokers and the time has come for them to be made to pay towards a Smokefree fund to prevent people from starting to smoke and helping those who do, to quit for good.”

Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy, Fresh and Balance, said: “The increase in higher risk drinking during the pandemic is hugely worrying, especially amongst people from lower socio-economic groups. The North East already suffers disproportionately from alcohol-related harms and health inequalities and the last eighteen months have helped to create a ‘perfect storm’ around alcohol, with alcohol-related deaths reaching record highs. We cannot afford any further delays – the Government needs to act now and introduce a comprehensive and evidence-based national alcohol strategy, which tackles the price, promotion and availability of alcohol and which reduces spiralling alcohol harms.”

Cancer Research UK press release
[1]


SURGE IN SMOKING AMONG YOUNG ADULTS DURING LOCKDOWN

The number of 18-34 year-olds who smoke increased by 25% in England during the first lockdown, according to a study* published today in the journal Addiction and funded by Cancer Research UK.

This means that over 652,000 more young adults smoke, compared to before the pandemic**.

The researchers from UCL and the University of Sheffield also found that over 4.5 million more adults would be classed as high-risk drinkers during the same period*** as the number rose by 40%. But this trend was particularly worrying in women (up 55%) as well as people from lower socioeconomic groups (up 64%).

Though existing heavy drinkers did make attempts to cut down, this was only observed in adults from higher socioeconomic groups, suggesting that if trends continue, health inequalities linked to alcohol could worsen.

There were increases in the number of existing smokers quitting successfully, and overall levels of smoking in adults remains stable. But, in the lead up to the Government publishing its tobacco control plan to help deliver its goal for England to become smoke-free by 2030, the increased number of young adults who smoke cannot be ignored. As it stands, meeting this would require smokers to quit at a rate of around 40% faster than predicted.

While the study doesn’t explain why these changes occurred, the researchers noted that people from lower income backgrounds, younger adults, and women are among those who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Given that many people mistakenly believe that smoking and drinking help relieve stress, they suggest it’s possible that some may have taken up these up for the first time or relapsed to help them ‘cope’.

Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer – it’s known to cause at least 15 different cancer types. And drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of seven different types of cancer.

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.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “There’s no ‘safe’ level of smoking or drinking, and stopping smoking or cutting down drinking will help to reduce your risk of cancer.

“Public health campaigns and prevention services have a vital role to play in helping people to quit and also maintaining the motivation of those who have already made positive changes. The upcoming tobacco control plan for England is a key opportunity for the Government to reduce smoking rates, but this can only be achieved with sufficient investment. A Smokefree Fund – using tobacco industry funds, but without industry interference – could pay for the comprehensive measures needed to prevent people from starting to smoke and helping those who do, to quit.”