Originally published: 5/26/2021
Giving up smoking can be challenging at the best of times. The added anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic may have made it even more difficult to say no to a cigarette, but it has also brought many more reasons to give up tobacco for good.
This wednesday March 9th is National No Smoking Day. This holiday originated in the Republic of Ireland in 1984, originally falling on Ash Wednesday, when the ruling clergy determined that cigarettes would be a good thing for people to give up for Lent. Between then and now, the day of the holiday has been shifted to the second Wednesday of March.
According to recent research from Altria1, cigarette sales in the U.S. had been declining slowly and steadily for years. Then in 2020, the decrease stopped. At the same time, calls to smoking quitlines across the U.S. fell by 27 percent to around 500,0002 – the biggest drop in a decade, according to the North American Quitline Consortium.
The reason is clear. The stress, anxiety and uncertainty brought about by the pandemic has caused a dramatic decline in the number of people trying to quit tobacco use.
Smoking, of course, invites innumerable health risks. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 480,000 people in the United States die from tobacco-related illnesses each year3, making it the number one preventable cause of death in the country.
But COVID-19 puts tobacco users at an even greater and more specific risk. Further research from the CDC confirms that smoking increases the risk of illness from the pandemic, and that smokers are more likely to suffer more severe variants of the disease.
Given the higher risks that smokers are known to face, more people than ever should be seeking to quit. However, the pandemic has also created additional barriers to giving up tobacco.
Smokers looking to quit have been hard hit by the pandemic. Loneliness, all too common in long periods of lockdown, can cause people to fall back into old habits. This is a pandemic that has limited our access not just to friends and family, but to healthcare professionals.
Anxiety around job security and financial worries can also hinder smokers from making a successful quit attempt.
In recent years, bans on smoking in public places have been helpful for anyone looking to give up tobacco. However, working from home during lockdown has made it easier for people to smoke, as they’re not restricted by the rules in place for offices or public spaces.
There has also been a drop in anti-smoking advertising campaigns from public health departments which, ironically, have been replaced by COVID-19 messages about social distancing, masking, and hand-washing.
Levels of mental well-being and motivation have also worsened. There’s a myth that smoking helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and elevates mood, when in fact the opposite is true. People who have successfully quit smoking report less stress, anxiety, and depression and an improved quality of life.
The benefits of being smoke-free
Clearly, giving up smoking has never been more important. It may not be easy during a pandemic, but the benefits are now more significant.
Don’t forget, stopping smoking reduces the risk of developing many other fatal diseases and delivers immediate benefits – improved blood pressure, and reduced respiratory infections and heart disease.
What’s more, with the cost of cigarettes continuing to rise, quitting smoking will also help to improve any financial hardship. Not only will you be in better physical and financial health, you’ll probably pay quite a lot less for your life insurance.
Quitting can start right now
While some people may be able to quit through force of will, many more will require assistance.
One of the best ways to stop smoking is to use a tailored quit counselling service, such as the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program. Ranked as one of the most effective cessation programs in the country, Freedom From Smoking has helped hundreds of thousands of people quit smoking for good and is now available in a variety of virtual user-friendly formats.
Counsellors and therapists can also provide personalized support to help you quit – including information on the types of stop-smoking medications available.
You can also go to your primary care doctor for information on stop-smoking medications and nicotine replacement therapy products. They can advise you on nicotine patches, which you can use along with gum, lozenge, or spray.
Increasing awareness of and improving access to cessation services has been exceptionally important in this pandemic, and will continue to be important as we begin to cautiously move out of lockdown. If you, or someone you know, is struggling to give up tobacco, remember support is available.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3 North American Quitline Consortium
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