Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Cedars Sinai Medical Center recently conducted a study that suggests smoking increases the risk of more severe lung disease in cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection.
While the U.S. Surgeon General and scientists have long established that smoking remains a deadly habit, the current pandemic poses an even more significant threat for smokers.
Across the globe, Turkey’s government has banned smoking in outdoor spaces to try and blunt the rise of COVID-19 cases.
But given the potential health risks, why do people pick up the habit?
“Our lives are being dictated by outside forces leaving many people depressed and feeling out of control. While smoking can make people feel more relaxed, a bigger reason why more people are smoking is that they can feel in control,” Dr. Andrew Selepak, a program coordinator at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, said in an email.
“People know smoking and tobacco is bad for them but while they are being required to wear masks and social distance, smoking is a form of rebellion, although not a very smart one during a respiratory pandemic,” he said.
Selepak called smoking a legal form of rebellion from government mandates.
“It is a misguided way to take back power over your own life and have control over your own death and health, especially at a time when thousands are dying from a disease that we still don’t understand,” he declared.
“In a way, smoking cigarettes is a way to take back control over the most important thing in our lives, our death, by being the one who decides what that death will be caused by rather than the unknown of a global pandemic,” Selepak concluded.
With the pandemic’s stress, many people have grown overcome with boredom and find smoking a way to escape the chaos of everyday life, offered Mariam Simmons, a fashion trendsetter.
“Smoking makes people physically and mentally dependent on nicotine, so trying to quit results in symptoms like headaches, depression, anxiety, slower heart rate, and so forth. So, they start using tobacco again,” Simmons opined.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $6.28, or $2,292 per year.
As a psychiatrist, Rhonda J. Mattox said she spends a great deal of time addressing smoking cessation and believes there’s a significant relationship between tobacco use and mental disorders.
Her assessment can be supported from a report released by the National Institute of Mental Health which noted that those with mental illness smoke at two-to-four times the general population’s rate.
“I am witnessing a surge in a relapse in nicotine use in many of my patients who had kicked the habit years ago,” Mattox said. “I’m also seeing an increase in nicotine use in those already using nicotine. The natural leap is that anxiety and emotional stressors appear to be contributing to an increase in nicotine use. I have especially seen this more in patients who are unable to afford their psychiatric medications or have chosen to stop taking their medications.”
Karen Gross, an educational commentator and senior counsel at Finn Partners in Northwest, attributed the increase in smoking due, in part, to individual’s response to the pandemic and social isolation.
“We have lost connectivity and I don’t mean zoom. We have been masked and socially distanced,” Gross said. “Smoking, for some, relieves anxiety and creates a connection between oneself and the cigarette in one’s hands.”
“And, since trauma abounds, we show trauma symptomology, and that lets us resort to “bad” habits because we are not exactly in control – our autonomic nervous system is on high alert. The bottom line: Yes, smoking is bad for our health. So is the pandemic. So is trauma,” Gross said.