It is perhaps not surprising to many that cigarette sales have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. A combination of already existing addiction, midlife, boredom, anxiety, and depression has contributed to an increase in unhealthy coping behaviors.
It makes sense that during a time of great crisis, people are more likely to rely on their proven coping mechanisms, no matter how unhealthy those behaviors may be. People would not use substances if they did not at least provide temporary relief from suffering.
While smoking cessation programs were heavily promoted by healthcare professionals during the pandemic, there actually appears to have been an increase in smoking. 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 ranked smokers as a high priority for the Covid-19 vaccine, even though they have not developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other smoking-related respiratory illnesses. Just the act of smoking is enough to get you past teachers and some essential workers.
Delaware has also included smoking or a history of smoking as a medical condition that may qualify people to receive Covid-19 vaccinations.
You could argue that since smoking doubles your risk of developing severe symptoms of Covid-19, it makes sense that smokers are a 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 they also strain hospital resources and create chronic stress for medical staff.
Others feel that smoking is a personal choice and shouldn’t make people a priority for vaccination, although nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Addictions don’t just develop in a vacuum – many people are more likely to develop an addiction due to a history of trauma, differences in neurotransmitter levels, and many other factors.
There was confusing data regarding smoking and nicotine at the start of the pandemic. Two scientific articles even declared that nicotine may have had a beneficial effect on the treatment of Covid-19. The conclusions of these articles have been called into question.
Where do we go from here? The smoking cessation programs and the funding for these programs must be maintained. State-funded smoking cessation programs have been shown to be significantly effective, with abstinence continuing during follow-up visits at 6 months.
In addition, efforts must be made to combat the stigma against drug addicts. Part of ending this stigma is changing the language we use, even in research studies, to discuss drug addiction and drug addicts. Contrary to popular belief, shaming addicts like nicotine does not reduce consumption. In fact, it increases anxiety and depression, leading to increased use.