The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Smoking, Vaping, and Smoking Cessation Services in the United Kingdom: A Qualitative Study

Nicotine Tob Res. 2023 Jan 5;25(2):339-344. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntac227.


Background: Existing evidence suggests that while the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic triggered quit attempts among many smokers, it led some to smoke more and others to relapse back to smoking. These diverse effects have the potential to have a long-term impact on individuals' smoking and vaping behaviors.

Aims and methods: This study explored the effect of COVID-19 on smokers and vapers, vape shops (VS), and stop smoking services (SSS). A total of 39 semi-structured interviews were conducted with stop-smoking practitioners, tobacco control leads, smokers and/or vapers, and vape shop owners. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically.

Results: Four themes were identified: Lockdown as a barrier to becoming or remaining smoke-free; COVID as a catalyst for quitting and remaining smoke-free; changes in vaping and challenges for vapers and VS; and changes and challenges for stop smoking support. Fear of COVID resulting in severe health implications for smokers facilitated behavior change; however, the boredom and monotony of lockdown and associated stress created difficulties in remaining a smoke free. Results showed that the enforced switch from face-to-face to the remote provision of SSS was beneficial for improving engagement, particularly for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women. Stop smoking professionals and vapers disagreed with the forced closure of VS because it created unnecessary difficulties for vapers to access supplies.

Conclusions: COVID-19 was both a barrier and facilitator for smoking cessation. Remote provision of SSS implemented due to lockdown was beneficial for hard-to-reach groups; services should look to incorporate these changes into day-to-day practice.

Implications: This study is one of the first to explore how the COVID-19 pandemic directly affected smokers, vapers, SSS, tobacco control leads, and VS. It provides evidence for the continued use of the remote provision of smoking cessation services to increase engagement among hard-to-reach groups and provides information on how pandemics can be a catalyst for health behavior change. This study is unique in that it incorporates the views of different stakeholders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking Cessation* / methods
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Vaping* / epidemiology