The association between risk perceptions, anxiety, and self-reported changes in tobacco and nicotine product use due to COVID-19 in May-June 2020 in Israel

Noah G. Rubinson, Geoffrey T. Fong, Shannon Gravely, Anne C.K. Quah, Michal Bitan, Shahar Lev Ari, Laura J. Rosen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, reports about a possible protective effect of nicotine on COVID-19 conflicted with messaging by public health organizations about increased risks of COVID-19 due to smoking. The ambiguous information the public received, combined with COVID-19-induced anxiety, may have led to changes in tobacco or other nicotine product use. This study examined changes in use of combustible cigarettes (CCs), nargila (hookah/waterpipe), e-cigarettes, and IQOS and home-smoking behaviors. We also assessed COVID-19 related anxiety and perceptions regarding changes in risk of COVID-19 severity due to smoking. Methods: We used cross-sectional data from a population telephone survey that was conducted in Israel in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic (May–June 2020) and included 420 adult (age 18+) individuals who reported having ever used CCs (n = 391), nargila (n = 193), and/or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)/heated tobacco products (e.g., IQOS) (n = 52). Respondents were asked about the effect that COVID-19 had on their nicotine product use (quit/reduced use, no change, increased use). We assessed changes in product use, risk perceptions, and anxiety using adjusted multinomial logistic regression analyses. Results: Most respondents did not change their frequency of product use (CCs: 81.0%, nargila: 88.2%, e-cigarettes/IQOS: 96.8%). A small percentage either decreased use (CCs: 7.2%, nargila: 3.2%, e-cigarettes/IQOS:2.4%) or increased use (CCs:11.8%, nargila:8.6%, e-cigarettes/IQOS:+ 0.9%). 55.6% of respondents used a product in the home prior to COVID-19; but during the first lockdown COVID-19 period, a greater percentage increased (12.6%) than decreased (4.0%) their home use. Higher levels of anxiety due to COVID-19 were associated with increased home smoking (aOR = 1.59, 95% CI:1.04–2.42, p = 0.02). Many respondents believed that increased severity of COVID-19 illness was associated with CCs (62.0%) and e-cigarettes/vaping (45.3%), with uncertainty about the association being lower for CCs (20.5%) than for vaping (41.3%). Conclusions: While many respondents believed that nicotine product use (particularly CCs and e-cigarettes) was associated with increased risk of COVID-19 disease severity, the majority of users did not change their tobacco/nicotine use. The confusion about the relationship between tobacco use and COVID-19 calls for clear evidence-based messaging from governments. The association between home smoking and increased COVID-19-related stress suggests the need for campaigns and resources to prevent smoking in the home, particularly during times of stress.

Original languageEnglish
Article number759
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


FundersFunder number
Cancer Society O. Harold Warwick Prize
Ontario Institute for Cancer ResearchAI-004
Canadian Institutes of Health ResearchFDN-148477


    • COVID-19
    • Cultural differences
    • Electronic cigarettes
    • Home smoking
    • IQOS
    • Nargila
    • Smoking
    • Tobacco use


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