Smoking, mental health and covid-19

Coronavirus, smoking and mental health

This page contains resources and information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and smoking for professionals working in mental health settings. It will be updated regularly with new resources and information as the situation develops.

Key points

The evidence is still emerging but suggests that smokers who contract COVID-19 are at greater risk of severe complications. Therefore, people who smoke should be encouraged to give-up as a priority during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It is vital that smokefree polices stay in place during the COVID-19 outbreak. This will support efforts to contain the virus and support service users to quit or abstain during the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19, smoking and mental health

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection which can cause life threatening systemic inflammation and pulmonary and cardiovascular complications.

Public Health England guidance states that: “On the available evidence, we advise:

  • if you smoke, you generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infection and of more severe symptoms once infected. COVID-19 symptoms may, therefore, be more severe if you smoke.
  • stopping smoking will bring immediate benefits to your health, including if you have an existing smoking-related disease. This is particularly important for both you and for our NHS at a time of intense pressure on the health service.”

The evidence is clear that:

This is significant health information, which smokers have a right to know, and they need to be supported to take steps to quit or abstain from smoking. See our FAQs for more information on COVID-19 and smoking.

Smoking rates among people with mental health problems are at least 50% higher than in the wider population, meaning they are more likely to suffer from smoking related conditions such as heart and respiratory diseases which are linked with worse outcomes from COVID-19.

It is therefore essential that these smokers continue to be encouraged and supported to quit.

Resources

E-cigarettes (vaping)

E-cigarettes are the most popular aid to quitting smoking in England. Whilst not completely risk free, switching completely to vaping is significantly less harmful than continuing to smoke.

The priority is to be smokefree. If vaping is helping service users to manage nicotine withdrawal and stay smokefree, they should be reassured that it is much less harmful than smoking, and they should continue to vape.

For people who don’t smoke or have never smoked, the advice is don’t start vaping as it is not risk free.

For more information, see the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership briefing: Use of electronic cigarettes by people with mental health problems: A guide for health professionals

Maintaining smokefree policies during the COVID-19 epidemic

It is vital that smokefree polices stay in place during the COVID-19 outbreak. This will support efforts to contain the virus and support service users to quit or abstain from smoking.

Guidance from RCPsych states that: “In the present situation staff and visitors will not be able to escort patients for smoking or so called “fresh air breaks”. This will need sensitive communication to patients and should be backed up with written information or posters.”

Patients should be provided with behavioural support and access to alternative nicotine products (including NRT or e-cigarettes) to help them quit smoking.

For further information see the Partnership’s Guidance for mental health trusts: Smokefree policies and COVID-19

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