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Nagawa CS, Ito Fukunaga M, Faro JM, Liu F, Anderson E, Kamberi A, Orvek EA, Davis M, Pbert L, Cutrona SL, Houston TK, Sadasivam RS. Characterizing Pandemic-Related Changes in Smoking Over Time in a Cohort of Current and Former Smokers. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. 2023 Jan 5; 25(2):203-210.
INTRODUCTION: We used a longitudinal cohort of US adults who were current or former smokers to explore how three participant-reported factors-general stress, coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) distress, and perceived risk of complications from COVID-19 related to smoking-were associated with changes in smoking status. METHODS: Smoking status was assessed at three time points. Timepoint 1 status was assessed at a prior study completion (2018-2020). Timepoint 2 (start of the pandemic), and Timepoint 3 (early phase of the pandemic) statuses were assessed using an additional survey in 2020. After classifying participants into eight groups per these time points, we compared the means of participant-reported factors and used a linear regression model to adjust for covariates. RESULTS: Participants (n = 392) were mostly female (73.9%) and non-Hispanic White (70.1%). Between Timepoints 2 and 3, abstinence rates decreased by 11%, and 40% of participants reported a smoking status change. Among those reporting a change and the highest general stress levels, newly abstinent participants had higher perceived risk of complications from COVID-19 related to smoking than those who relapsed during pandemic (mean (SD): 14.2 (3.3) vs. 12.6 (3.8)). Compared to participants who sustained smoking, those who sustained abstinence, on average, scored 1.94 less on the general stress scale (ßeta Coefficient (ß): -1.94, p-value < .01) and 1.37 more on the perceived risk of complications from COVID-19 related to smoking scale (ß: 1.37, p-value .02). CONCLUSIONS: Decreased abstinence rates are concerning. Patterns of reported factors were as expected for individuals who sustained their smoking behavior but not for those who changed. IMPLICATIONS: We observed an increase in smoking rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. In exploring how combinations of general stress levels, COVID-19 distress levels, and perceived risk of complications from COVID-19 related to smoking were associated with changes in smoking, we observed expected patterns of these factors among individuals who sustained abstinence or smoking. Among individuals who changed smoking status and reported high stress levels, those who reported a higher perceived risk of complications from COVID-19 related to smoking abstained from smoking. In contrast, those who reported a lower perceived risk of complications from COVID-19 related to smoking, started smoking. An intersectional perspective may be needed to understand smokers' pandemic-related behavior changes.