Fewer people tried to quit smoking as the COVID-19 pandemic began, and this continued for at least a year, according to a new U.S. study.
The American Cancer Society detailed pandemic smoking behavior in the report, while stressing the need to re-engage smokers in smoking cessation campaigns.
“Smoking cessation is an urgent public health priority given that smoking is associated with an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes and at least 12 cancers,” said lead study author Dr. Priti Bandi. She is principal scientist for risk factors and screening surveillance research at the society.
“It is essential to re-engage persons who smoke in serious attempts to quit smoking, considering a typical smoker tries to quit on average six times before being successful," Bandi added in a society news release.
The findings are based on nationwide surveys that included nearly 800,000 people between 2011 and 2020. The study also included retail scanner data from 31 states for nicotine replacement therapies. That data was for the period between January 2017 and July 2021.
The researchers found that the number of past-year attempts to quit smoking dropped between 2019 and 2020 for the first time since 2011. Attempts to quit also declined in 2020.
The relative decreases between 2019 and 2020 were the largest among people from groups who had disproportionately negative outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, including middle-aged people, those with two or more co-existing conditions, Black people, and people with less education.
The findings were published online Aug. 1 in JAMA Network Open.
“These results remind us how critical it is for clinicians and health care systems to support persons who smoke with evidence-based quitting strategies,” said Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society. “Such efforts must be particularly targeted to persons disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Meanwhile, sales of nicotine replacement therapy products were between 1% and 13% lower than expected sales. Declines began in April 2020 and continued through the first quarter of 2021, the findings showed.
Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said, “Tobacco is the number one preventable cause of cancer and is responsible for up to one-third of all cancer deaths. We know quitting tobacco isn't easy, so we must do everything in our power to ensure individuals trying to quit have access to the cessation services they need."
Ensuring that Medicaid covers all smoking cessation treatments and services approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in every state, and that state prevention and cessation programs are adequately funded will help more people quit and reduce cancer disparities, Lacasse added.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the health effects of cigarette smoking.
SOURCE: American Cancer Society, news release, Aug. 1, 2022