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Cigarette sales increase during pandemic after longtime decline

Dr. Elliott Twiggs of UW Medicine says he's seeing a mix of patients who have newly picked up the habit or are returning to smoking to relieve stress.

WOODINVILLE, Wash. — One of the worst habits to have with COVID-19 circulating, a disease that attacks the lungs, is making a comeback during the pandemic, and experts say the virus itself is to blame.

Smoking has become more popular since the start of 2020 when COVID-19 started circulating in the U.S. and took center stage in our daily lives, according to Dr. Elliott Twiggs of UW Medicine.

Twiggs specializes in smoking cessation at UW Medicine Primary Care in Woodinville. He says that some of the resulting stressors and measures taken during the pandemic have contributed to more and more Americans turning to cigarettes.

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Twiggs said the stress of the virus plus the fact that many Americans are working from home to practice safe social distancing has contributed an increase in smoking.

According to a study published in October 2021, cigarette sales across the country were up more than 14% from March 2020 to June 2021. This is in contrast to the long-term declining trend from January 2007 to February 2020.

“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.”

While the study didn’t distinguish between first-time smokers or returning smokers, Twiggs said he’s seeing both types of patients.

“Stress is a normal part of life, but it's really when it gets too much that it can create problems that really make it hard to quit,” Twiggs said.

The finding that cigarettes’ popularity grew during the pandemic comes despite experts saying early on that quitting smoking is among the most effective ways to prevent contracting the virus. 

In fact, the World Health Organization has cited research showing smokers as having a higher susceptibility to COVID-19.

One reason smokers are more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus since smoking ups oxygen needs and puts smokers at higher risk of lung conditions like pneumonia, which COVID-19 also increases the risk of.

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