The UK Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and smoking, alcohol consumption and vaping during the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from eight longitudinal population surveys

Michael J. Green*, Jane Maddock, Giorgio Di Gessa, Bożena Wielgoszewska, Sam Parsons, Gareth J Griffith, Jazz Croft, Anna J. Stevenson, Charlotte F. Huggins, Charlotte Booth, Jacques Wels, Richard J. Silverwood, Praveetha Patalay, Alun D. Hughes, Nishi Chaturvedi, Laura D Howe, Emla Fitzsimons, Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, George B. Ploubidis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Employment disruptions can impact smoking and alcohol consumption. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries implemented furlough schemes to prevent job loss. We examine how furlough was associated with smoking, vaping and alcohol consumption in the UK.

Data from 27,841 participants in eight UK adult longitudinal surveys were analysed. Participants self-reported employment status and current smoking, current vaping and alcohol consumption (>4 days/week or 5+ drinks per typical occasion) both before and during the early stages of the pandemic (April–July 2020). Risk ratios were estimated within each study using modified Poisson regression, adjusting for a range of potential confounders, including pre-pandemic behaviour. Findings were synthesised using random effects meta-analysis.

Compared to stable employment and after adjustment for pre-pandemic characteristics, furlough was not associated with smoking (ARR = 1.05; 95% CI: 0.95–1.16; I2: 10%), vaping (ARR = 0.89; 95% CI: 0.74–1.08; I2: 0%) or drinking (ARR = 1.03; 95% CI: 0.94–1.13; I2: 48%). There were similar findings for no longer being employed, and stable unemployment, though this varied by sex: stable unemployment was associated with smoking for women (ARR = 1.35; 95% CI: 1.00–1.82; I2: 47%) but not men (0.84; 95% CI: 0.67–1.05; I2: 0%). No longer being employed was associated with vaping among women (ARR = 2.74; 95% CI: 1.59–4.72; I2: 0%) but not men (ARR = 1.25; 95% CI: 0.83–1.87; I2: 0%).

We found no clear evidence of furlough or unemployment having adverse impacts on smoking, vaping or drinking behaviours during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Differences in risk compared to those who remained employed were largely explained by pre-pandemic characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number345
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The contributing studies have been made possible because of the tireless dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of the many people who have taken part. We would like to thank the participants and the numerous team members involved in the studies including interviewers, technicians, researchers, administrators, managers, health professionals and volunteers. We are additionally grateful to our funders for their financial input and support in making this research happen. GS: Drew Altschul, Chloe Fawns-Ritchie, Archie Campbell, Robin Flaig. ALSPAC: Daniel J Smith, Nicholas J Timpson, Kate Northstone Understanding Society: Michaela Benzeval MCS, NS, BCS70, NCDS: Colleagues in survey, data and cohort maintenance teams

Funding Information:
Generation Scotland received core support from the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Directorates [CZD/16/6] and the Scottish Funding Council [HR03006]. Genotyping of the GS:SFHS samples was carried out by the Genetics Core Laboratory at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility, Edinburgh, Scotland and was funded by the Medical Research Council UK and the Wellcome Trust (Wellcome Trust Strategic Award “STratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally” (STRADL) Reference 104036/Z/14/Z). Generation Scotland is funded by the Wellcome Trust (216767/Z/19/Z).

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Core Studies, an initiative funded by UKRI, NIHR and the Health and Safety Executive. The COVID-19 Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing National Core Study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MC_PC_20030). SVK acknowledges funding from a NRS Senior Clinical Fellowship (SCAF/15/02), the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00022/2) and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (SPHSU17). GJG acknowledges funding from the ESRC (ES/T009101/1). Funders had no role in the methodology, analysis or interpretation of the findings presented in this manuscript.

Funding Information:
The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant Ref: 217065/Z/19/Z) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. A comprehensive list of grants funding is available on the ALSPAC website ( ). We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them, and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists and nurses. The second COVID-19 data sweep was also supported by the Faculty Research Director’s discretionary fund, University of Bristol.

Funding Information:
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing was developed by a team of researchers based at University College London, NatCen Social Research, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the University of Manchester and the University of East Anglia. The data were collected by NatCen Social Research. The funding is currently provided by the National Institute on Aging in the US, and a consortium of UK government departments coordinated by the National Institute for Health Research. Funding has also been received by the Economic and Social Research Council. The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Covid-19 Substudy was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Grant (ESRC) ES/V003941/1.

Funding Information:
Understanding Society is an initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and various Government Departments, with scientific leadership by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, and survey delivery by NatCen Social Research and Kantar Public. The Understanding Society COVID-19 study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/K005146/1) and the Health Foundation (2076161). The research data are distributed by the UK Data Service.

Funding Information:
The Millennium Cohort Study, Next Steps, British Cohort Study 1970 and National Child Development Study 1958 are supported by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Resource Centre 2015-20 grant (ES/M001660/1) and a host of other co-founders. The COVID-19 data collections in these four cohorts were funded by the UKRI grant Understanding the economic, social and health impacts of COVID-19 using lifetime data: evidence from 5 nationally representative UK cohorts (ES/V012789/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


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