U.S. smoking cessation rates drop during COVID-19 pandemic

A new study finds that the number of people in the U.S. trying to quit smoking dropped after the COVID-19 outbreak and continued for more than a year.

Led by researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS), the study reports that the decline was more common in populations more likely to be negatively affected by the virus, such as those with comorbidities, middle-aged and frail people. The decline in smoking cessation attempts began immediately after the onset of COVID-19 and continued for more than a year.

“Given smoking is associated with severe COVID-19 outcomes and an increased risk of at least 12 types of cancer, smoking cessation is an urgent public health priority,” said Dr. Priti Bandi, chief scientist for the Risk Factors and Screening Surveillance Study at the American Cancer Institute. Society and lead author of the study. “Considering that a typical smoker makes an average of six attempts to quit before being successful, it is imperative to reintroduce smokers to serious attempts to quit.”

Another recently released study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health cites pandemic-related anxiety, boredom and irregular schedules as major drivers of increased nicotine and tobacco use during the pandemic.

Drivers of Tobacco Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Titled “Multilevel drivers of tobacco use and purchase behavior during the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’: A qualitative study in the United States,” was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Based on previous findings, the researchers highlighted the following Covid-related changes:

  • Increases are driven by individual factors (eg, anxiety, boredom, irregular schedule).
  • Reduced interpersonal interaction leads to reduced use among social tobacco users.
  • Smoking and vaping behaviors in the home have changed due to new family dynamics.
  • Vaping products are less available than cigarettes, prompting users to buy online.

With these factors in mind, the study suggests certain public health interventions and policies that could better support tobacco harm reduction and cessation attempts during the pandemic and beyond. “To mitigate the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate the existing public health crisis, multilevel policy strategies, such as the expansion of virtual smoking cessation services and the implementation and enforcement of smoke-free home rules, can better support population health during this critical period. Policies that promote access to lower-risk products can help minimize harm for those who cannot or do not want to quit.”

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