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COVID Lockdowns Got People Smoking More

TUESDAY, March 9, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The pandemic's spring lockdowns last year triggered an unwelcome side effect: New research shows more Americans turned to tobacco and nicotine as they struggled with boredom, anxiety and the disruption of regular routines.

Between April and May 2020, the study authors conducted telephone interviews with U.S. adults who use cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

During the survey period, nearly 90% of Americans were under some form of state lockdown. At the time they were interviewed, all the respondents were voluntarily isolating at home unless they had to go out for essential reasons.

Nearly all of the study participants reported increased stress due to the pandemic -- citing fears about the virus, job uncertainty and the mental health effects of isolation -- and stress was the main reason for increased nicotine and tobacco use among the respondents.

A drop in use was less common, but was more likely among "social" tobacco users, who said their reduction in use was due to less personal contact with others during lockdown and a fear of sharing tobacco/nicotine products during the pandemic.

Store lockdowns had different impacts on the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Cigarettes were widely available in essential businesses, such as convenience stores and gas stations, but access to vaping products was more limited, because vape shops that sell them were considered nonessential and forced to close, according to the researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City.

That led some e-cigarette users to buy products online, but they often faced long wait times. As a result, some people who used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes increased their smoking rates, the study authors said in the report, which will be published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

"Pandemic response policies that intentionally or inadvertently restrict access to lower risk products -- through availability, supply chains or even postal service slowdowns -- while leaving more harmful products widely accessible may have unintended consequences that should be considered during policy development," study lead author Daniel Giovenco, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences, said in a Columbia news release.

More information

The American Cancer Society outlines how to quit smoking.

SOURCE: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, news release, March 4, 2021

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