The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of life, and efforts to quit smoking appears to be one of the pandemic’s victims. According to a new report by the North American Quitline Consortium (NAQC), there was a large drop in the number of calls to the National Cancer Institute-operated portal that connects callers to local quitlines during 2020.
“The decrease in calls to state quitlines was not uniform over the year”, noted the report. “Instead, the decrease mirrored the timeline of the pandemic, showing a 6% decrease in the first quarter of 2020, followed by decreases of 39%, 30%, and 21% in quarters two, three and four respectively, compared to 2019 (figure 3). The 2020 call volume was the lowest since 2007. These data indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a large and negative impact on smoking cessation in 2020.”
In addition to the steep drop in calls to quitlines, cigarette sales also increased in 2020. After steadily declining by 4-5% annually since 2015, cigarette sales increased by 1% during the first ten months of 2020. “Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things a person can do, and it’s hard to quit when everything is going well in life,” Linda Bailey, president and CEO of the NAQC told The Washington Post in an interview. “The stress and anxiety created by the pandemic really caused people not to be able to think about quitting. They were worried about the pandemic. They were worried about other things and just not able and not motivated to quit.”
The NAQC report concludes by stressing the importance of messaging on tobacco cessation during the pandemic, along with offering effective smoking cessation services so that all the health gains from tobacco cessation are not lost. “The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged progress on smoking cessation in 2020, but this does not need to be the case in 2021”.