Cigarettes sales during the pandemic were 14% higher than past years

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Americans bought more cigarettes during the COVID-19 pandemic than they had in previous years, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society analyzed data from tobacco companies and found that cigarette sales were 14 percent higher after March 2020 than predictions from a model based on data from the previous decade.

This 14 percent increase in sales translated to 0.34 additional packs a day for each American adult, the team said.

Cigarette sales had been in a long-term decline prior to the pandemic – but Covid has appeared to put a pause on this downward trend.

Some adults may be inclined to take up or increase smoking due to stress and other mental health impacts of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this behavior confers increased risk of severe Covid.

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The Covid pandemic was a stressful time for many Americans.

In early months of spring 2020 when much of the country went into lockdown, researchers have found increased rates of mental health issues and drug use.

These issues have persisted throughout the past year and a half.

For example, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 41 percent of American adults reported symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder in January 2021  compared to just 11 percent in 2019.

A new study indicates that smoking may have increased during the Covid pandemic as well.

Scientists at the American Cancer Society used federal data on cigarette sales to examine the pandemic’s impact.

Their study was published Tuesday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers analyzed monthly filings from major tobacco companies, obtained from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

They calculated aggregate cigarette sales for each month from January 2007 to June 2021.

Using these monthly figures, the researchers developed a model to predict what sales would have been in 2020 if the pandemic hadn’t occurred.

This model utilized data from January 2007 to February 2020, showing a steady downward trend in cigarette sails prior to the pandemic.

But during the pandemic, cigarette sales went up – for the first time in years.

Sales were 14 percent higher from March 2020 to June 2021 than the researchers expected, based on the model from past years’ data.

This increase in sales translated to an additional 0.34 packs a day for each adult in the U.S.

Even when the researchers adjusted their analysis for delays in cigarette supply during the pandemic, they still found higher sales than expected.

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The analysis aligned with past findings from other researchers, as well as claims from the tobacco industry about Covid being a boon for their business.

‘This study shows that increases in cigarette sales went beyond the first 3 months of the Covid pandemic and persisted in the 16 months after its onset in March 2020,’ the researchers wrote.

The researchers noted that this analysis relied on national data – they were unable to account for potential variations in cigarette sales by state or by different demographic groups.

In addition, the researchers said that the cigarette sales in this study were ‘a proxy for actual consumption.’

A number of cigarettes are sold illegally in the U.S., and thus aren’t accounted for in government tax filings.

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‘Cigarette sales were greater than would have been expected during the pandemic, with slowing of the previous downward trend, suggesting persistent, overall changes in smoking behavior,’ the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

The researchers did not provide suggestions as to why the pandemic would have led to increased smoking.

But smoking may be tied to stress and other mental health conditions, which impacted millions of Americans during the pandemic.

Those Americans who took up or increased smoking during the pandemic may be at increased risk of Covid, as smoking damages the respiratory system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes both current and former smokers on its list of people who may be especially vulnerable to severe Covid cases. 

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