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The UK government aims to achieve a smoke-free England by 2030 - a target that will be met when smoking prevalence falls below 5% of the population. To reach that target, urgent action is required to encourage people to quit smoking, particularly in demographics that have the highest smoking rates.
In line with these goals, the UK government is urging smokers to swap cigarettes for vapes in a world first scheme - 'swap to stop' - designed to improve the nation's health. Almost one in five of all smokers in England will be provided with a vape starter kit and behavioural support as part of the scheme.
The government's 2017 tobacco control plan includes a plan to 'reduce the inequality gap in smoking prevalence between those in service, routine and manual occupations and the general population'. According to the latest PHE data, that gap currently stands at employees in service, routine and manual occupations being 77% more likely to smoke This gap has increased by 5% since 2017.
Here at Vape Club, we wanted to raise awareness of this disparity and outline what employers can do to support smoking cessation. Our Employee Health Report has collated and analysed the latest data from the Office for National Statistics and the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities.
More must be done to address this health inequality for those in routine and manual occupations if England is to realise its smoke-free targets.
It's vital that everyone has the same access to support and nobody in society is left behind. Falling rates of smoking are rightly celebrated, but we can't ignore the kind of inequality this data shows. The UK government recognises the importance of vaping for helping smokers quit cigarettes - their new 'swap to stop' scheme is a pioneering step in the right direction towards giving smokers the right support.
Dan Marchant, Managing Director Of Vape Club
According to ONS definitions, 'routine and manual occupations' encompass routine technical, sales and service, production, operative, and agricultural occupations. Specific roles covered by the routine and manual occupation definition include lorry drivers, receptionists, security guards, farmers and bar staff, to name only a few.
Some areas of England are falling far behind when it comes to tackling smoking rates.
In Manchester, Islington and Merton - the three worst-affected areas - people working in service, routine and manual roles are more than three times more likely to smoke than the average person in England. In the 20 areas with the highest smoking rates in such roles, the probability of these employees smoking is at least twice as high as the national average.
There are just eight areas in England where service, routine and manual employees are less likely to smoke than the average person. In Sefton, the rate of smoking in these employees is around 8%, well below the national average of 13%
If other areas of the country followed Sefton's lead, England would be significantly closer to meeting the goal of 5% smoking prevalence.
In the construction industry, the suicide rate is three times higher than the national average. While UNISON reports that 68% of care home workers have experienced deteriorating mental health since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Many people in service, routine and manual roles face similar problems, and smoking itself can cause mental health issues. The NHS says: “Evidence suggests the beneficial effect of stopping smoking on symptoms of anxiety and depression can equal that of taking antidepressants.”
According to the latest government data, a quarter (almost 26%) of people with long-term mental conditions smoke - more than twice the national average. Among those with a serious mental illness, smoking prevalence is over 40%, making them over three times (235%) more likely to smoke than the average person.
Mental health problems can manifest themselves in many ways. Some of the most common symptoms are feelings that:
Anybody experiencing such feelings should contact their GP as soon as possible. Free 24 hour phone lines such as the Samaritans are also available to give a judgement-free listening ear.
In addition to benefitting mental health, quitting smoking obviously greatly improves smokers' physical health. Having healthier employees is clearly in any business' interest, resulting in fewer absences from work and more productive personnel.
Organisations can also play a significant role in helping employees to quit. According to a 2013 study, workplace cessation programmes achieve higher quit rates (13% overall) than non-work-based programmes, after six months. And the UK Health Security Agency cites that people are 34% more likely to quit when someone they work with stops.
HR teams could help encourage smoking cessation by adopting a smoke-free policy in the workplace, this means smoking on-site, the parking area and doorways is prohibited. This simple step is very impactful and by making smoking that little bit more inconvenient, it can be a constant reminder to break the habit.
Bethany Smith, HR Advisor At Heatable
So how can employers support people who want to quit?
For anybody trying to quit smoking, the NHS provides comprehensive stop smoking services, including cessation aids like patches, chewing gum and tablets. Many of those quitting smoking find vapes an effective way to transition away from cigarettes.
The NHS also offers one-to-one advice and group support, while plenty of charities and other organisations offer mental health support:
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