Irish Heart Foundation says quit smoking service funding a vital element of efforts to tackle COVID-19

Incoming Government should ban smoking in Leinster House campus

Dublin, 28th May 2020: In advance of World No Tobacco Day on May 31st, the Irish Heart Foundation today (Thursday) called for major investment in quit smoking services in response to mounting evidence that smokers are at higher risk of hospitalisation due to COVID-19.

The heart health charity urged the incoming Government to quadruple spending on smoking cessation to €50 million at least, whilst also banning smoking throughout the Leinster House campus to show leadership on what remains Ireland’s leading cause of preventable death.

Irish Heart Foundation Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey, said the vast majority of the nearly 700,000[i] current smokers in Ireland want to quit and a lot more needed to be done to protect them, including from the deadly consequences of the virus.

“Smokers make up almost one fifth of the population aged 15 years and older[ii], there is compelling evidence that they are at much greater risk of serious harm from COVID and therefore a thorough overhaul of grossly underfunded cessation services should be implemented as an urgent and indispensable element of tackling the pandemic.”

New research among 2.4 million people in the UK showed that current smokers were 14% more likely to develop common COVID-19 symptoms, such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and fever than non-smokers. They were 29% more likely to have more than five symptoms of the virus, and 50% more likely to have more than 10 symptoms. In addition, smokers who tested positive for COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to be hospitalised than non-smokers[iii].

“Regardless of the virus nowhere near enough is being done to support the 80% of smokers want to quit[iv] and to cut the rate of almost 6,000 tobacco-related deaths in Ireland each year”, added Mr Macey. “The amount spent on cessation services is just 1%[v] of the billion euro that smokers pay to the Exchequer each year[vi]. It isn’t fair to place a large additional tax burden on people because of their addiction to nicotine and then fail to invest properly in helping them overcome it when many are desperate to quit.”

Mr Macey added that if the incoming Government is serious about tobacco control an important signal of intent would be an immediate smoking ban covering the entire Leinster House campus.

“Achieving a Tobacco Free Ireland by 2025 has been a flagship Government policy for more than seven years, but you’d have to wonder whether our policymakers will have even managed to remove smoking from their own workplace by the deadline that has been set.

“Big strides have been made in cutting the smoking rate in recent years, but a lot more needs to be done to deal with the scourge of tobacco. A good place for our policymakers to start would be at their own front door.”

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