We all know that the last few years have been full of challenges. There are myriad reasons – a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, isolation because of social distancing. Recent data show that Americans may have been turning to cigarettes and other forms of commercial tobacco in greater numbers to alleviate stress and anxiety. Of course, we now know that using commercial tobacco or vaping may initially feel like it helps with the physical symptoms of stress or anxiety but it exacerbates symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.

Tobacco companies and the pandemic economy

It is not surprising that people turned to cigarettes and other forms of tobacco and nicotine because of the pandemic. In 2020, tobacco companies increased their advertising and promotion to $7.84 billion, from $7.624 billion the previous year. Much of that was spent on price discounts and such as coupons and other promotions to lower the cost of cigarettes.

As a result, people purchased cigarettes in bulk quantities in 2020, like toilet paper and other products that became scarce, fearing shortages.

Health risks of COVID-19 greater for smokers and vapers 

Whether someone chooses to smoke or vape, the damage to their lungs can put them higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause inflammation in the lung tissue, allowing lung illnesses to take hold more easily. Smoking can increase the severity of a lung infection, reduce immunity and interfere with the body’s ability to recover from lung illnesses.

Likewise, initial studies also show that vaping may cause increased inflammation in the lungs. Vaping aerosol has heavy metals, fine particulates, flavorings and other chemicals that can embed into the lung tissue.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

The Great American Smokeout was on Thursday, November 18. It is an annual day created by the American Cancer Society to encourage people to quit smoking, vaping or chewing tobacco. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Whether you choose today as your quit day, or three months from now, quitting is the best way to reduce your risk of severe illness from COVID-19, chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. In fact, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the United States.

Quitting tobacco and health equity

For decades, tobacco companies have targeted communities of color, low-income people and people with mental illness or substance use disorders with advertising, price promotions and event sponsorships. 

These communities have used tobacco or vape at disproportionately high levels compared to other groups, resulting in greater numbers suffering from tobacco-related illnesses like high blood pressure, stroke or cancer.

Quitting tobacco or vaping is the best way to improve health for any current smoker or vaper but given the disproportionate risks marginalized communities face, it’s even more important to consider quitting.

Start your quit journey now

Wherever you are in your quit journey, making the decision to quit tobacco use is a big step. Below are five practical steps that may help you along the way.

  1. Mindset matters.  Be absolutely ready. Although you may have mixed feelings about quitting right now, being strong enough in your resolve to quit will prevent you from having to start over.
  2. “Why” is now the time?  Determine  your compelling ”why”  and commit to it. Writing down your reasons for quitting will be a solid reminder of why quitting is important to you.
  3. What is the best approach for you? Decide on the best approach for you. Not every approach works for everyone. Decide which one will most effectively help you stay on track. Nicotine Replacement Therapies? Medication? Cold turkey? Slowly decrease? Set a date?  Talk to your doctor if you would like to explore  medications or Nicotine Replacement Therapies . 
  4. Be mindful of your habits.  Be aware of your habits around tobacco use  and change routines around those habits. Stay away from what tempts you, while doing more activities that keep you away from tobacco.
  5. Celebrate the small successes! Give yourself grace if you slip. Keep moving forward from where you are. Keep your “why” in the forefront. Set up rewards that will motivate you to keep moving forward.

 Quit tools and resources

Quitting commercial tobacco or vaping is not easy. It takes time and a plan. You can find help and resources that are often free.

Most Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota members have access to help from a wellness coach as well as other tools and resources. 

If you are a Minnesota resident, you can access free tools, resources and coaching from Quit Partner. There is even a program called My Life, My Quit especially for youth aged 13 to 17 interested in quitting vaping or other tobacco products. Other culturally tailored programs include: