Rates of smoking have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It may come at no surprise to many that cigarette sales have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. A combination of an already existing addiction, quarantine, boredom, anxiety, and depression have contributed to an increase in unhealthy coping behaviors.
It makes sense that during a time of great crisis that people are more likely to lean on their tried and true coping mechanisms, as unhealthy as those behaviors may be. People wouldn’t use substances if they didn’t at least provide some temporary relief from suffering.
While smoking cessation programs were strongly encouraged by medical professionals during the pandemic, it appears that there was actually an increase in smoking. Out of current smokers, 25% reported smoking more than before, while 50.9% reported smoking the same amount as before the pandemic. Only 20.2% reported a decrease in smoking.
New Jersey has listed smokers as high priority for the Covid-19 vaccine, even if they have not developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other smoking-related respiratory diseases. Simply engaging in smoking is enough to put you ahead of teachers and some essential workers.
Delaware has also included smoking or a history of smoking as medical conditions that can qualify people to receive Covid-19 vaccinations.
One could argue that since smoking does put you at double the risk of progressing into severe Covid-19 symptoms, it makes sense to have smokers as high priority for the vaccine. After all, more severe cases of Covid-19 not only cause more pain and suffering for patients and their families, but also take up hospital resources and create chronic stress for medical staff.
Others feel that smoking is a personal choice and shouldn’t move people up in vaccination priority, although nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Addictions also don’t just develop in a vacuum — many people are more susceptible to addiction due to a past history of trauma, differences in neurotransmitter levels, and many other factors.
There was confusing data regarding smoking and nicotine at the beginning of the pandemic. Two scientific articles even stated that nicotine may have had a beneficial effect on the treatment of Covid-19. The findings of these articles have been questioned.
Where do we go from here? Smoking cessation programs, and funding for those programs need to be continued. Publicly-funded smoking cessation programs have been found to be significantly effective, with smoking abstinence continuing at 6-moth follow-up visits.
In addition, work needs to be done to combat stigma towards people with addictions. Part of ending that stigma means changing the language we use, even in research studies, to discuss addiction and those that are addicted. Contrary to popular belief, shaming those with addictions, such as to nicotine, does not reduce use. In fact, it increases anxiety and depression, leading to increased use.
I am a Ph.D., licensed, board-certified mental health counselor in practice for over 20 years. I am the best-selling author of several books, including Gaslighting: