Smoking Makes a Comeback in the Pandemic

By Cara Murez
HealthDay reporter

TUESDAY, March 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Katie Rodgers was only 15 when she first started smoking and in her early 20s it became a bigger habit.

Rodgers found it difficult to quit, but she was able to break the habit at 33 during a global pandemic because she knew that smoking would increase her anxiety and put her at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from the disease. COVID-19.

His feat was unusual at a time when cigarette purchases increased slightly in the United States and demands for smoking cessation services fell dramatically.

“I have a strong aversion to the hospital and I am really helpless because of a virus. And I knew that, mostly because it affects the respiratory system, that if I continued to smoke it would just increase my chances of being a healthy person – taking a whole different path and becoming extremely ill, ”Rodgers said.

During a recent roundtable, experts on smoking cessation and drug addiction raised concerns about the increase in smoking and stressed the urgent need to reverse it.


“The researchers noticed that this had changed for alcohol and other substances as well, and suggested that the stress and anxiety resulting from the pandemic could be factors that lead to the use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances. other substances, ”said Linda Bailey, president and CEO of the North American Quitline Consortium (NAQC).

“At the consortium, we believe that… stress and anxiety have also contributed to the decrease in the number of people seeking help to quit smoking,” Bailey said.

About 480,000 people in the United States die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, making it the number one preventable cause of death in the country.

And SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has put tobacco users at additional risk. British researchers have found that smokers are more likely to suffer from more severe variants of the disease. Another study has identified a link between smoking and increased severity and risk of death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

In the United States, the smoking rate fell from 42% in 1965 to 25% in 1997 and 14% in 2019. Data for 2020 are not yet available.


What experts do know is that calls to leave the lines in the United States were down 27% from 2019. In the first quarter of last year, calls were down 6% and then plummeted. 39% from April to June.

Until 2020, stop-line calls in the United States ranged from around 700,000 to over 900,000 per year since 2012, according to the NAQC.

And cigarette sales for the first 10 months of 2020 rose about 1%, ending an annual decline of 4% to 5% since 2015, according to data from the US Treasury Department.

Quitting smoking has never been more urgent, said Anne DiGiulio, national director of lung policy at the American Lung Association.

“The American Surgeon General has established a conclusive link between smoking and suppressing the immune system,” said DiGiulio. “And according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking increases the risk of illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. In light of this, quitting smoking has never been more important.


Catherine Saucedo, deputy director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California at San Francisco, noted that smoking often affects vulnerable people for other reasons, including income and education. Almost half of stop callers have behavioral health issues.

“When you quit smoking, yes you are going to improve your physical health, but at the same time you are actually improving your mental health, which we could all be using right now,” Saucedo said. “The effect is similar to that of an antidepressant. Not everyone realizes it has such an impact.”

Bailey, DiGiulio and Saucedo were on a panel that recently dissected the issue. The other panelists were Dr. Brian Hurley, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine; and Dr. Ken Duckworth, Chief Medical Officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Matt Pierce, program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ, moderated.

Duckworth noted that there could be a long tail of mental health issues stemming from the pandemic, and Hurley suggested tailoring smoking cessation treatment to individuals. Strategies could include a combination of medical options and a mix of medication, counseling and support.


DiGiulio said insurance coverage for programs to help people quit smoking, along with counseling and medication, are among the keys to helping reduce smoking.

Bailey said increases in excise taxes that encourage people not to smoke and bans on smoking in public places have also helped. Working from home during the pandemic may have made it easier for people to smoke, she said, as they are not hampered by the rules in place for public spaces.

An initiative to get smoking cessation back on track is expected to start at the end of this month. Rodgers will be featured in the upcoming social media campaign to reduce smoking through empathetic and supportive messages.

Rodgers said she was motivated to quit in part because a friend who works in addiction research told her that smoking can make symptoms of anxiety or depression worse. Media images at the start of the pandemic of people on gurneys or using respirators made him want to reduce his own risks.


Rodgers used techniques learned in meditation to help herself quit smoking, with the support of her family and friends. Having the security of a job with a salary and benefits has also helped her by making her life easier, she said.

“I think this could be a big part of why people keep smoking is that when you don’t have the economic means to feel safe, it is very difficult to take care of yourself and your health, ”Rodgers added.

More information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on how to quit smoking.

SOURCES: Linda Bailey, JD, MHS, president and CEO, North American Quitline Consortium, Phoenix; Katie Rodgers, teacher, Oakland, California; Anne DiGiulio, national director, lung health policy, American Lung Association, Washington, DC; Catherine Saucedo, Deputy Director, Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, University of California, San Francisco; Ken Duckworth, MD, Chief Medical Officer, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Arlington, Va .; Brian Hurley, MD, MBA, president, American Society of Addiction Medicine, Los Angeles; Matt Pierce, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ

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