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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.


Jennifer Gendron
Jennifer Gendron

Head of Development, Innovations

Jennifer Gendron brings nearly 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, client success, and non-profit leadership with both a business and clinical background. Gendron oversees sales, marketing, client success, and partnerships for the EX Program. Her experience provides leadership and a deep understanding of B2B go-to-market strategy, new business creation, and channel strategy within the health and wellness industry. Most recently, Gendron was chief revenue officer at MeYou Health, a SaaS wellbeing platform, where she directed sales, client success, and marketing, leading their go-to-market strategy. Prior to MeYou Health, she served in leadership roles at Virgin Pulse, a corporate wellness provider, and E4 Health, a healthcare management solution. Gendron earned her Master of Business Administration from Northeastern University and is a graduate from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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