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2 Unsettling Tobacco Trends Driven by COVID-19—and 1 Bright Spot

2 Unsettling Tobacco Trends Driven by COVID-19—and 1 Bright Spot

COVID-19 is driving major changes across every aspect of society and one aspect is especially unsettling: Tobacco trends.

As the pandemic continues, we’re seeing 3 major tobacco trends worth watching, since how they play out could be critical for employee and member health.

  1. More purchases of tobacco products and higher reported tobacco consumption.

Pre-COVID, cigarette smoking was on a downward trajectory, according to the 2020 Surgeon General report (although e-cigarette use was simultaneously increasing among young adults).

Then came the pandemic.

Goldman Sachs released a report that shows increased buying of cigarette cartons and multi-packs, despite widely held concern about the impact on lung health from COVID-19. The analysts speculate one reason may be stockpiling as consumers worry about possible shortages in the months ahead, but another big factor is more work-from-home schedules, which allow for greater tobacco use.

But it’s not only stockpiling and more flexible schedules driving this trend.

A survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield found that several negative health behaviors have risen since the outbreak began—including higher consumption of alcohol and greater use of tobacco—likely linked to coping with pandemic-related stressors.

  1. More searches about the “health benefits” of tobacco. (Spoiler: There aren’t any.)

Google search data shows increased search volume of terms such as “good side effects of smoking cigarettes.”

This kind of wishful thinking may be driven by misinformation circling in the news about the relationship between smoking and COVID-19.

What we do know is that any search results suggesting tobacco use protects against COVID-19 is dangerously false. The World Health Organization has found that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Vaping is also a potential risk for COVID-19. E-cigarette aerosol harms lung cells, causes inflammation, and diminishes the ability of the lungs to respond to infection.

Learn more about the impact of tobacco use and COVID-19 in our recent webinar.

Here’s the bright spot in tobacco trends: Search queries for quit-smoking support remain strong

Google search data also shows the volume of people seeking online help for quitting tobacco remains strong since the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, searches specifically for “how to stop smoking immediately” are up significantly compared to last year at the same time.

This trend offers some hope. It means people are continuing to look for help, and fortunately, a digital option like the EX Program can be a crucial resource.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to shift in new ways—and for some, that involves going back to once-conquered habits like tobacco use—but effective resources are available.  Offering a cessation program that provides unlimited support for as long as tobacco users need to stay quit is essential. Here’s why: Research shows that most smokers want to quit and that it often takes 6 or more quit attempts to succeed.

Now is an important time to make sure your employees have the tools they need to successfully quit for good. Download our Tip Sheet: COVID-19 and How to Help Tobacco Users Quit and Stay Quit When Stress Skyrockets to learn 5 important things to keep in mind to support employees and health plan members in the process of quitting and remaining tobacco-free.


AJ Sisodia
AJ Sisodia

Managing Director, Business Development

AJ Sisodia is responsible for the strategy and management of new business and partnerships for the EX Program. He brings over 15 years of experience in sales and business development, with a specific focus in digital health and wellness. Prior to joining the EX Program by Truth Initiative, he served as Director of Strategic Development at Virgin Pulse, the largest global health and well-being technology and services company. Sisodia is a graduate of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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