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News • Surprising results

Experts expected smoking to increase during the pandemic – but the opposite happened

Danish smokers bought less tobacco and more of them quit smoking than usual during the Covid pandemic, according to new research from the University of Copenhagen. The result comes as a surprise given that mental health and exercise habits waned during the lockdown, according to a researcher behind the study.

More smokers than usual decided to quit during the Covid pandemic. Those who kept puffing also purchased significantly less tobacco, according to new research from the University of Copenhagen, published in Nature Communications, that monitored cigarette purchases from the March 2020 lockdown through the end of the year. 

Among other things, the figures demonstrate that regular smokers bought 20 percent fewer cigarettes each week than before the pandemic. And, the number of those who quit increased by ten percent from the year prior. "The big picture is that cigarette consumption fell during the pandemic. It comes as somewhat of a surprise, as one would expect to see people smoking more during a pandemic, a time when people felt worse psychologically and had fewer opportunities to move about. Yet, the opposite occurred," says Associate Professor Toke Reinholt Fosgaard of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food and Resource Economics, the study’s first author.

Our study tells us that smoking behavior can be influenced not just by pricing, but by making the consequences of smoking more immediate than they are typically perceived. The statistics show that Covid moved people

Toke Reinholt Fosgaard

The most obvious reason for the decline in tobacco consumption according to the researcher is that smokers are at greater risk of developing severe Covid symptoms, hospitalization and, in the worst case, of dying from the virus. "For a smoker, the consequences of smoking became more immediate, rather than a consequence in old age, as smokers suffer more severe cases of Covid," says Toke Reinholt Fosgaard. 

While tobacco purchases among all smokers declined by 12%, one group among them bought slightly more during the lockdown – occasional smokers. "Social smokers, who we define as those who smoke less than one cigarette a day on average, bought more tobacco than usual, which may be due to a shift from smoking on social occasions to more frequent smoking at home," says Toke Reinholt Fosgaard. 

The findings could contribute important knowledge to anti-smoking campaigns in the future. Pictures on packs of cigarettes already depict the potential consequences of smoking and there is regular talk of raising prices. But according to Toke Reinholt Fosgaard, the study results demonstrate that tobacco prices aren’t necessarily the only thing that can be turned up. "Our study tells us that smoking behavior can be influenced not just by pricing, but by making the consequences of smoking more immediate than they are typically perceived. The statistics show that Covid moved people," says the researcher. 

This is the first time that researchers used cigarette sales data rather than surveys to learn about people's smoking habits during the pandemic. The sample data was sourced from Spenderlog, a Danish fintech app that lets users track their purchasing. 

Source: University of Copenhagen


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