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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful time, with many people stuck at home for extended periods. We know this led to an increase in some unhealthy behaviours, like increased alcohol use and online gambling – and now new findings suggest smoking and nicotine use also increased during that time.

New research analysed data from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, which covers about half the country. It showed that the consumption of tobacco and nicotine had been decreasing in Australia until the COVID-19 pandemic hit (since the 1970s according to the Cancer Council NSW). The researchers believe that the pandemic disrupted this trend temporarily. The increase in nicotine consumption was highest in the first half of 2020, which coincided with Australia’s first wave of COVID-19 cases. The authors argue people may have smoked or vaped more while working from home or managing higher stress levels due to public health measures like lockdowns and social distancing.

The research found that nicotine use decreased again as COVID-19 restrictions eased but remained higher than pre-pandemic levels. The uncertainties during the early months of the pandemic may have had a detrimental impact on quitting activity, as people may have resorted to smoking to alleviate their anxiety during times of extreme stress.

The researchers warn that smoking can cause higher morbidity and mortality risks when compounded with COVID-19 in Australia, so it’s important to reduce the number of people smoking by supporting quit efforts. It may mean GPs should also consider checking in with patients who had previously quit or have a prior history of smoking.


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