Fewer people quit smoking in recession, figures suggest
Fewer people have tried to give up smoking in England during the recession than did so before, research suggests.
Although it can be an expensive habit, experts say some people rely on smoking during hard times.
In 2007 - before the recession - about 32% of smokers said they had tried to quit within the past three months.
This had fallen to 23% by 2008 and 22% by 2009. Latest figures up to 2010 show only 17% have attempted to quit, says Cancer Research UK.
Professor Robert West, director of tobacco studies at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre, has been tracking the number of smokers and their quitting patterns in England since November 2006, before the ban on smoking in enclosed public places came into force in England in July 2007.
His figures reveal the rate of quitting slowed down when recession hit the UK economy.
Professor West said: "While no-one can be sure about the cause and effect with data of this kind, this could be another very damaging impact of the financial crisis.
"Obviously we can only guess at a link, but we know that when people are under stress and have bad things going on in their lives they shorten their horizons and focus on getting through, day to day.
"They don't have the mental energy to focus on doing things that are hard, like quitting smoking."
Even though smoking costs money, Professor West said cigarettes were not always the first "luxury" to go.
"It's sad but true that people give up other things instead.
"Even when people are short of money we know that they can spend about 20% of their disposable income on cigarettes or tobacco."
Call for action
He said his studies showed more people were moving away from brand cigarettes to cheaper hand-rolled tobacco.
Martin Dockrell of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said: "A 20-a-day smoker spends over £2,500 on cigarettes a year so there's never been a better time to quit.
"When people are feeling hopeless it is harder to make positive changes.
"Smoking already hits the poorest hardest and half the gap in life expectancy is down to smoking.
"If the government is serious about bridging that gap they will need an ambitious plan that helps smokers to quit and make it harder for manufacturers to recruit our young people."
Professor West said GPs also had an important role to play in helping people to quit smoking.
"They should be offering smoking cessation services to all their patients who are smokers. There is plenty of funding for these services but they are not being used as much as they should be."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Smoking remains the single biggest cause of premature death in England and action to tackle smoking is a priority for the Government.
"We will be outlining our plans in the forthcoming Public Health White Paper later this year.
"Any smoker who wants to quit can get free support from the NHS. More information is available at the NHS SmokeFree website or by calling the Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4332."