The percentage of smokers who attempted to quit cigarettes dropped for the first time in a decade, according to a study published on August 1 in JAMA Network Open. Researchers attributed the phenomenon to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smoking cessation has become an urgent public health priority given that smoking is associated with an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes and other diseases, including dental diseases. The study is one of the first to offer insight into how smoking cessation changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some prior studies have suggested that the pandemic led to an increase in cigarette use among smokers as a stress-related coping mechanism. For other smokers, fears about the health risks of COVID-19 may have prompted a decision to reduce or quit tobacco products.
In the new cross-sectional study, researchers analyzed changes in smoking cessation-related behaviors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic using data from approximately 790,000 U.S. adult smokers. Researchers also gathered data from the nationally representative Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey and representative retail scanner sales data for nicotine replacement therapy universal product codes.
Researchers evaluated changes in the annual self-reported prevalence of past-year quit attempts and recent successful cessation before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales volumes of nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches before and during the pandemic were calculated.
The annual number of past-year cessation attempts decreased for the first time since 2011 from 65.2% to 63.2%. The largest decreases were among individuals between the ages of 45 and 64, those with two or more comorbidities, and Black individuals. The rate of recent successful cessation remained unchanged.
Simultaneously, sales of nicotine replacement therapy brands decreased across U.S. states. Compared with expected sales, observed sales during the pandemic were lower by 13% for lozenges, 6.4% for patches, and 1.2% for gum. Smoking cessation activity decreased amid the COVID-19 pandemic and remained depressed for more than a year.
"These findings suggest a decrease in smoking cessation activity during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to reengage smokers in evidence-based quitting strategies," concluded the researchers.