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

Abstract

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
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Funding

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

    Keywords

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

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