Smokers Are Citing The Coronavirus As An Incentive To Quit, Says Addiction Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist who specializes in addiction says that tobacco smokers are citing the coronavirus pandemic as an incentive to quit. They have been encouraged to quit not only because smoking increases the risk of complications from COVID-19, but also because they are finding it difficult to obtain tobacco.

Writing in The Conversation, Dr. Amy Harrington, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said that she works with patients who smoke tobacco or "vape" tobacco -- that is, getting their fix from a machine that vaporizes an oil containing nicotine, then is inhaled into the lungs. She said many of her patients have told her the coronavirus pandemic has been the incentive they needed to give up their habit.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it's been known that smokers of tobacco and cannabis are at risk of developing complications from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, doctors have warned that ingesting burning plant matter into the lungs -- be it tobacco or marijuana -- or ingesting burning oil, temporarily inflames the lungs, putting the user at additional risk for complications.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 15: A woman smokes a cigarette in the central business district on May 15, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. Following a successful smoking ban in the Melbourne Laneway and The Causeway, Melbourne City Council is considering a plan to make the Melbourne CBD smoke-free by late 2016. The plan would see pedestrians, city workers and diners on footpaths banned from smoking in most CBD streets with designated smoking shelters being considered. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Getty Images | Scott Barbour

That fact has caused many of Dr. Harrington's patients to quit.

"Many of them tell me that they want their lungs to be as healthy as possible in case they become infected with the coronavirus," she explained.

It's not just the possibility of dying from an acute respiratory illness that is incentivizing Dr. Harrington's patients to give up their habit. The realities of life during the pandemic are also causing other issues for smokers.

For example, running to the corner store to pick up a pack of smokes used to be a mundane and routine event. Now, however, it's a possible death sentence, as being out in public risks exposure to the virus.

Also -- for many smokers -- smoking is a social activity. As social activities have all but stopped, there is no reason to smoke.

Many smokers enjoyed taking a smoke break with their colleagues during the work day. Now, many tobacco users work from home, and the twice-daily smoke break with coworkers is no longer a part of their daily routine. Similarly, going to the bar and having a smoke with one's buddies can no longer occur, considering bars are largely closed due to the pandemic.

Other smokers simply can no longer afford their habit, having lost their jobs.

Dr. Harrington pointed to several resources available to smokers in the U.S. who want to kick the habit, such as Nicotine Anonymous, which -- like the similarly-named Alcoholics Anonymous -- is a 12-step program. Nicotine Anonymous is currently holding sessions online, in order to comply with social distancing measures. Several quit-smoking apps for mobile devices are also available to smokers who want to quit.