Smoking resurgence seen with pandemic

Smoking can be a challenging habit to quit. The pandemic hasn’t made it easier.

Dr. Elliot Twiggs of UW Medicine Primary Care at Woodinville specializes in smoking cessation. He says the stress of COVID-19 and other anxieties about social justice reform and political trends have ratcheted up the urge to smoke among many of his patients in the past two years.

Another contributing factor: Working from home has made access to cigarettes easier.

“Many people are showing less motivation to want to quit or have started smoking again. Many people find this isn’t a good time to quit just because of all the stress that's going on in their lives,” said Twiggs. “They absolutely can't imagine that. Also (there are) people who really want to quit but just don't feel like this is a good time to do it.”

A study released in autumn 2021 shows that U.S. cigarette sales jumped 14% above expected rates in the first 15 months of the pandemic. The research did not distinguish whether sales increased because of first-time smokers, people returning to the habit, or those who have used cigarettes for years. Twiggs says he’s seen patients in each category.

If you think a loved one is struggling with smoking, Twiggs suggests speaking up and being patient.

"I would ask for permission to talk about it, see if they're OK with that – and if they are, tell them how concerned you are,” he said. “Be open and flexible and try to be nonjudgmental.  It is so worth doing because we know how harmful tobacco use can be for people.”

Learn more about the health risks of smoking.  If you want to start the process to quit smoking, speak with your healthcare provider or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

UW Medicine