Study on smoking during the pandemic

June 9, 2021

Last year, people who smoked had a variety of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some increasing their smoking to help them cope and others quitting to potentially lessen their vulnerability to COVID-19. That’s the finding of new research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and conducted by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Researchers analyzed survey responses from 694 current and former daily smokers — the average age was 53 years, 40% were male, and 78% were white — who had been hospitalized before the COVID-19 pandemic and had previously participated in a smoking cessation clinical trial at hospitals in Boston, Nashville and Pittsburgh. The survey was administered from May to July 2020.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents believed that smoking increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 or having a more severe case. This perceived risk was higher in Massachusetts (where COVID-19 had already surged) than in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Higher perceived COVID-19 risk was associated with a higher interest in quitting smoking.

During the pandemic, 32% of respondents increased their smoking, 37% decreased their smoking, and 31% made no change. Those who increased their smoking tended to perceive more stress.

Also, 11% of respondents who smoked in January 2020 (before the pandemic) had quit smoking by the time the survey was administered (an average of six months later), while 28% of former smokers relapsed. Higher perceived COVID-19 risk was associated with a higher likelihood of quitting and a lower likelihood of relapse.

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