Lots of people seem to be smoking again or more during the pandemic, if anecdotal evidence and preliminary sales figures for tobacco products are any measure.
“Good quality surveys operate at a lag,” said Vaughan W. Rees, the director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard University, referring to reliable smoking studies from institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But we are seeing interesting blips. The decline in tobacco sales has slowed in the past 10 months.”
While tobacco sales in the United States have generally fallen in recent decades (14 percent of Americans smoked in 2019, compared with nearly 21 percent in 2005, according to an annual report from the C.D.C. that tracks smoking rates), the decline flattened last year.
“The total volume of cigarettes sold in the U.S. typically declines by 3 or 4 percent,” said Adam Spielman, a managing director at Citi who follows the tobacco industry. “But in 2020, volume is flat and that’s a significant change, driven mostly by the fact that people have less things to spend money on right now.”
Smokers also cited stress as a reason for lighting up.
“I’ve had a few people in my practice who have relapsed and they blame Covid,” said Benjamin A. Toll, the director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at Medical University of South Carolina. “Part of me feels like this is the excuse of the hour.”
Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist and founder of Tribeca Therapy in Manhattan said, “When things are scary, people revert to that which is comforting and familiar, like going out to buy a pack of cigarettes.”