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New figures from London Fire Brigade show the number of smoking-related fires in the home has increased by around 20 per cent since the UK lockdown was announced, despite it being reported that one million smokers in the UK have quit during the pandemic.
Smoking remains one of the leading causes of fires in the home, with smoking materials causing over 500 fires during the lockdown period alone. Most notably, was a fire at a flat in Kennington at the end of June which resulted in a first floor flat being destroyed by fire, smoke and heat and 18 people receiving treatment from London Ambulance Service crews.
Clinicians have found that smokers are at an increased risk of developing serious health complications should they contract Covid-19 and have advised smokers across the UK to quit the habit in the wake of the pandemic. Whilst many heeded the advice, 13 per cent of Londoners who continued to smoke reported that they were smoking inside more than before lockdown*.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “When you read that one million people have given up smoking in the recent months, you expect the number of smoking fires to mirror that and decrease, but we have actually seen the opposite.
“Lots of people have been working from home and staying indoors more, which might explain why we have seen a spike in smoking-related fires which start in various rooms in the home as people bring their smoking habits inside.”
According to the survey carried out by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), 400,000 smokers under the age of 30 have committed to make the change in comparison to just 240,000 of those over 50. Concern around the increase in smoking-related fires is heightened by the fact that older age groups are not giving up the habit in the same quantities as their younger counterparts. Older people who live on their own had three times as many fires in their home compared to those under 65, with smoking remaining a leading cause of fatal fires.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Pugsley added: “Because we aren’t seeing smokers over the age of 50 quitting in the same numbers as younger generations, we aren’t going to see a change in the number of smoking-related fires for many more years to come. This is particularly worrying because it is these age groups who are the most vulnerable to fires starting in the home.
“We urge people to take the opportunity and quit smoking now. If you can’t quit, it’s always safer to go outside to smoke, but make sure cigarettes are put right out and disposed of properly.
“Never smoke in bed and avoid smoking on armchairs and sofas – especially if you think you might fall asleep or if you have been drinking alcohol. It’s really important that you dispose of smoking materials safely and never throw cigarettes from balconies or windows.”
Director of Policy at Action on Smoking and Health, Hazel Cheeseman said: “Our message for smokers is that today is the day to quit. There is plenty of help out there, you can search ‘smokefree’ or look up the Stop Smoking London website to find out more.
“But if you can’t quit, you can protect yourself and your loved ones by taking it outside. You can use nicotine replacement therapy or e-cigarettes inside which will protect others from second-hand smoke and reduce the chances of starting a fire.”
Notes to editors:
* An analysis of a survey carried out by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds that 13 per cent of smokers in London report they were smoking inside more than before the lockdown.