Sharp rise in smoking linked to loneliness in lockdown

People who felt distressed and lonely during the country’s lockdown last autumn were three times more likely to smoke more, a new study has found.

The results of the survey, undertaken by University of Otago, Wellington researchers professor Janet Hoek, Dr Philip Gendall, associate professor James Stanley, Dr Matthew Jenkins and Dr Susanna Every-Palmer, have been published in the international journal, Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Dr Every-Palmer said people who felt lonely or isolated almost all the time were more than three times more likely to increase their cigarette intake than those who were never lonely.

“This finding was not related to whether people lived alone or with others, which suggests living alone is not necessarily the same as being lonely,” she said.

“Future pandemic planning could also examine how people can retain feelings of connection.”

Dr Gendall agreed. “To support these people, and help realise the Government’s smokefree 2025 goal, we need to explore how helping people feel connected in general and able to access cessation support in particular, could be enhanced to suit pandemic situations.”

Of the 261 daily smokers surveyed, 45 per cent reported increasing the number of cigarettes they smoked from an average 10 cigarettes a day to 16, Professor Hoek said.

“That’s about two packs of cigarettes a week, which is a substantial and expensive increase.”

The survey also revealed that among daily smokers about 16 percent smoked fewer cigarettes and 39 per cent reported no change in their smoking habits.

Similar changes in smoking behaviours were also seen during the Christchurch earthquake and research found that these increases continued after the earthquake.

Professor Hoek said it would be important to develop outreach programmes to support people who have recently become smokefree, or who were trying to quit so that during a crisis event they would be able to cope with triggers instead of taking up smoking again.

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