Anyone who has tried will know just how difficult it can be to quit smoking. For those who haven’t – trust us, it’s difficult.
That’s why we’re excited to be joining a study exploring how new approaches could help people impacted by homelessness to kick the habit.
Around 14% of people smoke. For people impacted by homelessness, the figure is four times higher. This group is also more likely to engage in ‘risky’ smoking behavior like sharing cigarettes, smoking discarded butts and making new cigarettes out of old ones. However, while they report the same levels of desire to quit as the wider population (around 75%), they use stop-smoking services much less.
That’s where a new study, being co-delivered by London South Bank University and University College London, comes in. Partnering with others across Great Britain, they are examining how to help people who have been homeless stop smoking more effectively.
“There are some misconceptions about how and why people impacted by homelessness smoke” says Janine, a research assistant delivering the study in London. “For example, that they don’t want to quit, or that doing so may lead to other issues like mental health difficulties. But these are simply not true.”
Currently, people in supported housing who want to quit smoking are referred to external services, who can provide advice and prescribe things like nicotine patches and other supportive measures. This can be effective, but we know that people impacted by homelessness are not accessing these services as much as they could be. An alternative is to embed the support within services themselves. This study is exploring the use of e-cigarettes to do that, and has recruited customers at our services to do so.
When Evolve customers sign up to the study, they are provided with an e-cigarette, four weeks of liquids for it and information about how to use them. Researchers then check in with them after 4, 12 and 24 weeks to see how their behaviors are changing. In doing so, they collect data on how effective this new approach is at helping people to change and reduce their smoking practices. These results will be compared to other services, where people will continue to be referred to stop-smoking support
Although e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they don’t contain the tobacco that is responsible for most of the dangerous chemicals. As such, if people move from actual cigarettes to electronic ones, it is hugely beneficial. Other studies have also found that from there it is easier to reduce nicotine consumption altogether.
People impacted by homelessness can experience multiple extra barriers when accessing medical care and health services. The lack of engagement with stop-smoking services is a clear example of this. If this new approach shows promising results, the benefits for people impacted by homelessness could be wide ranging; from improving overall health, to supporting mental wellbeing and to reducing risky behavior like sharing cigarettes.
It is important to find ways to address the obstacles people face when managing their health. Studies like this are a great example of how we can try to do this, and we look forward to seeing the results!
This study is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) PHR programme (PHR Reference Number: NIHR132158). The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. London Southbank University is the sponsor institution delivering it, along with University College London, in London and the South East of England, in partnership with others delivering the trial elsewhere in Great Britain including the University of East Anglia, the University of Stirling and Cardiff University.