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Did People Smoke More or Less During the Pandemic?
  • Posted June 10, 2021

Did People Smoke More or Less During the Pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has affected American smokers in different ways, a new study finds.

While some smoked more to help them cope with the crisis, others quit to reduce their COVID-19 infection risk.

"Even before the pandemic, tobacco smoking was the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. COVID-19 has given smokers yet another good reason to stop smoking," said study author Dr. Nancy Rigotti. She is director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.

Between May and July 2020, the researchers surveyed 694 current and former daily smokers, average age 53, who had been hospitalized before the COVID-19 pandemic and previously participated in a smoking cessation clinical trial.

Of the participants, 68% believed that smoking increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 or having a more severe case. Higher perceived COVID-19 risk was associated with more interest in quitting smoking.

During the pandemic, 32% of respondents smoked more, 37% smoked less, and 31% made no change. Those who smoked more tended to report more stress.

The study also found that 11% of participants who smoked in January 2020 (before the pandemic) had quit smoking by the time they took part in the survey (an average of six months later), while 28% of former smokers started smoking again.

Higher perceived COVID-19 risk was associated with a greater chance of quitting and a lower risk of relapse, according to the study published June 7 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"Physicians, health care systems and public health agencies have an opportunity to educate smokers about their special vulnerability to COVID-19 and urge them to use this time to quit smoking for good," Rigotti added in a hospital news release.

Study co-leader Dr. Hilary Tindle is founding director of the Vanderbilt Center for Tobacco, Addiction, and Lifestyle at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville, Tenn. She said, "These messages will be more impactful if they guide smokers to programs like tobacco quit lines, which are available in every U.S. state and provide free counseling and medication to quit smoking."

More information

The American Cancer Society offers advice on how to quit tobacco.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, June 8, 2021

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