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The UK COVID-19 furlough scheme and associations with smoking, alcohol consumption and vaping: evidence from 8 UK longitudinal population surveys.

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

Posted 02 Nov 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.10.28.21265593

BackgroundDisruptions to employment status can impact smoking and alcohol consumption. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK implemented a furlough scheme to prevent job loss. We examine how furlough was associated with participants smoking, vaping and alcohol consumption behaviours in the early stages of the pandemic. MethodsData were from 27,841 participants in eight UK adult longitudinal surveys. Participants self-reported employment status and current smoking, current vaping and drinking alcohol (>4 days/week or 5+ drinks per typical occasion) both before and during 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. Sub-group analyses were used to identify whether associations differed by gender, age or education. ResultsCompared to stable employment, neither furlough, no longer being employed, nor stable unemployment were associated with smoking, vaping or drinking, following adjustment for pre-pandemic characteristics. However, some sex differences in these associations were observed, with stable unemployment 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%). There was little indication of associations with drinking differing by age, gender or education. ConclusionsWe 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, with differences in risk compared to those who remained employed largely explained by pre-pandemic characteristics.

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